2020 State of the Air Report: WI air quality improves in some areas, worsens in others

Published: Apr. 20, 2020 at 10:10 PM CDT
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The American Lung Association released its 21st annual "State of the Air" report Monday night, and officials say, despite enormous progress, too many Wisconsinites are still breathing unhealthy air while people in other parts of the state enjoy near pristine air quality.

Officials from the American Lung Association out of Brookfield said, with COVID-19 cases currently topping three quarters of a million nationwide, including over 4,400 cases in Wisconsin, clean air is critically important to the health of the state and nation.

This year's report makes the 50th anniversary of the federal Clean Air Act, the law that is responsible for the enormous strides that have been taken in cleaning up air to date, the Association said.

The "State of the Air" 2020 found two Wisconsin cities made the report's list of Top 25 most polluted cities for ozone. Milwaukee and Sheboygan ranked 24 and 22 respectively, both experiencing more days with unhealthy ozone than in the 2019 report. Officials said this is the third year in a row that Sheboygan has recorded an increase.

The three-year reporting period, 2016-2018 were the hottest, third hottest and fourth hottest on record. Rising temperatures lead to increased levels of ozone pollution.

On the flip side, in other parts of the state, La Crosse/Onalaska and the Wausau/Stevens Point/Wisconsin Rapids area continue to make the list of cleanest cities for ozone, registering zero unhealthy air days over the three-year reporting period, the report said.

Particle pollution (PM) levels improved dramatically with all Wisconsin counties meeting the federal standard. Green Bay improved its year-round levels to the lowest averages ever.

On the list of the "Top 25 Cleanest U.S. Cities for Year-Round Particle Pollution," one Wisconsin area - Appleton, Oshkosh, Neenah - was ranked 23.

Nationally, the report found that, in 2016-2018, millions more Americans were living in communities impacted by unhealthy levels of pollution in the form of more unhealthy ozone days, more particle pollution days and higher annual particle levels than in previous reports.

Nearly five in ten people - 150 million Americans - live in counties with unhealthy ozone or particle pollution, according to the report.

The report does not cover data from 2020, but amid the COVID-19 pandemic, officials from the American Lung Association said the impact of air pollution on lung health is of heightened concern.

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