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Memphis gets an ‘F’ in ‘State of the Air 2021’ report

WATN Memphis logo WATN Memphis 4/29/2021 Istvan Bardos
a tall building in a city © Provided by WANT Memphis

A new report says that while Memphis’ air quality has made ‘significant progress,’ it still received a failing grade. The ‘F’ grade for Memphis was in the American Lung Association "State of the Air 2021" report, which ranks cities --and grades counties-- based on ozone and particle pollution during 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was used to compile the annual report card for all cities and counties where air quality data is collected on ozone and particle pollution. According to the data, more than 123 million people lived in a county earning a failing grade for ozone pollution, including over 28 million children and over 18 million people age 65 or older.

Here is what the report said about Memphis.

The American Lung Association’s 2021 “State of the Air” report finds that Memphis continues to struggle with ozone pollution, but this year’s report shows Memphis experienced fewer unhealthy days and an improved ranking. See the full report at Lung.org/sota.

The Lung Association’s annual air quality “report card” tracks and grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthful levels of particle pollution (also known as soot) and ozone (smog) over a three-year period – this year’s report covers 2017-2019.

Ozone Pollution in Memphis

“State of the Air” 2021 found that Memphis had a weighted average of 5.2 days (an F grade) with unhealthy levels of ozone, better than the weighted average of 6.2 days in last year’s report. The area is ranked 47th most polluted for ozone, which is an improvement compared to their ranking of 43rd last year. 

Although Memphis’s air quality has made significant progress since the Lung Association’s first report in 2000, this year’s report showed the area still experienced a number of unhealthy air days residents must be mindful of.

“Bad air days in Memphis can harm the health of everyone, but place our children, older adults and people living with lung disease particularly at risk,” said Christine Hart, manager of the Healthy Air Campaign at the Lung Association. “Breathing ozone-polluted air can trigger asthma attacks and can result in serious health effects, such as cardiovascular damage and developmental and reproductive harm.”

Particle Pollution in Memphis

The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: average annual levels and short-term spikes. “State of the Air” 2021 found that year-round particle pollution levels in Memphis were slightly higher than in last year’s report but continue to meet the national standard. The area was ranked tied 78th most polluted for year-round particle pollution (compared to 87th last year).

In tracking short-term spikes in particle pollution, the report found that Memphis once again ranked as one of the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution, earning an “A” on the report.

The “State of the Air” report found that nationwide, more than 4 in 10 people (135 million) lived with polluted air, placing their health and lives at risk. The report also shows that people of color were 61% more likely to live in a county with unhealthy air than white people, and three times more likely to live in a county that failed all three air quality grades. The report also notes that extreme weather events made air quality worse and harder to clean up.

Both ozone and particle pollution can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks and cardiovascular damage and are linked to developmental and reproductive harm. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer.

The Lung Association advises Tennesseans to pay attention to the daily air quality index (AQI) to know when to take extra precautions to protect your health. You can check the AQI for your zip code at www.airnow.gov. On bad air quality days, it is important to limit outdoor activity to prevent possible asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing or even heart attacks.

Learn more about “State of the Air” at Lung.org/sota and sign the petition for the Biden Administration to promote clean air, a safe climate and environmental justice.

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