Atlanta’s health at risk with 195 dirty air days in 2015

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2015 to 2016 Atlanta region sees biggest increase in smog levels in U.S.

Environment Georgia Research & Policy Center

[Atlanta] – Air pollution remains a major threat to our health, according to a new report from Environment Georgia Research & Policy Center, Our Health at Risk: Why Are Millions of Americans Still Breathing Unhealthy Air? In 2015, people here in Atlanta experienced 195 unhealthy air pollution days, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts.


“Even one day with unhealthy air is too many,” said Jennette Gayer, Director of Environment Georgia. “Burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and gas threatens our health it’s time to shift to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.”

Environment Georgia Research & Policy Center released the report shortly after the launch of Georgia’s ‘smog season’ on May 1st.

Although our air is less polluted than it was 30 years ago, dirty air is still a major health problem. Despite that fact, President Trump is proposing cuts to important programs that could help clean up our air. In just the last month, the Trump Administration has:

  • Instructed the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, the largest step the United States has ever taken to cut dangerous global warming pollution;
  • Proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent;
  • Instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back federal clean cars standards that were supposed to prevent 6 billion metric tons of global warming pollution; and
  • Told the Department of Interior to rewrite air pollution regulations for oil and gas drilling.

These actions will have significant health impacts. Blocking the Clean Power Plan alone will slow progress in cleaning our air – leading to 3,600 additional premature deaths, 90,000 more asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 more missed work and school days by 2030.

“Moving away from clean sources of energy is reckless and frankly un-American,” said Don Moreland, Chairman of the Georgia Solar Energy Association. “We should be doing more to clean up pollution and develop clean energy, not less.

Our Health at Risk reviews EPA records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and soot – dangerous pollutants that come from burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Key findings include:

  • Atlanta ranked 10th in the nation for unhealthy air days in 2015.
  • People in the Metro Atlanta Region experienced 89 days with elevated smog pollution and 195 days with elevated soot pollution in 2015.
  • Based on preliminary data, 2016 was even worse. Atlanta had 121 days with elevated smog pollution, a 32 day increase. This was the largest increase seen by any metro region in the U.S.  additional unhealthy smog pollution days compared to 2015.
  • Across Georgia 15 cities had unhealthy levels of soot pollution on at least 10 days during 2015, Atlanta came in first amongst GA cities for both smog and soot pollution days in both 2015 and 2016.

Many Georgians may be exposed to air pollution even more severe than described here because they live in local pollution “hotspots,” such as near freeways, airports and industrial facilities – facing greater health impacts. 

 “Unfortunately, the most vulnerable among us, often people of color or those struggling to make ends meet, will live near highly traveled roads or polluting plants,” said Francys Johnson, President of the Georgia NAACP. “These communities are unfairly saddled with an increased risk of lung cancer or death from stroke, lung disease or heart disease.” 

“And it’s not just soot and smog,” said Gayer. “We also have to worry about global warming pollution. Warming is extending the smog season across more of the year, and driving up smog levels on hot days. Along with drought, warming is also making wildfires more frequent and intense – causing additional pollution that can travel hundreds of miles.”

Speakers urged Georgia’s elected leaders to stand up to attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act, to maintain the strength of the nation’s Clean Car Standards, and to accelerate our transition to clean energy.