New report: Trouble in the Air: 7.6 million Georgians experienced over 65 days of polluted air in 2020

Media Contacts
Jessica Wahl

Former Clean Energy Associate, Environment Georgia

Particulate matter and ozone pollution are harmful to human health

Environment Georgia Research & Policy Center

Atlanta, GA – Five urban centers and rural areas in Georgia, collectively home to over 7.6 million people, suffered through more than 65 days of elevated air pollution in 2020, according to a new report from Environment Georgia Research & Policy Center and the Frontier Group. 

Air pollution increases the risk of premature death, asthma attacks, cancer and other adverse health impacts, and causes 9,000 deaths every year in Georgia

“Even one day of breathing polluted air has negative consequences for our health,” said Jessica Wahl, Associate with Environment Georgia Research & Policy Center. “Elevated pollution for three to four months out of the year is unacceptable, and we need to do more to deliver cleaner air for our communities.” 

Augusta-Richmond county, which fared the worst in Georgia, suffered through 101 days of unsafe air quality, while Albany area residents breathed in pollution for 89 days out of the year. Northwest Georgia near Chattanooga, TN endured unhealthy air for 77 days, Warner Robins for 75, and the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta area for 67. Overall, ten Georgia areas mentioned in the report experienced over 50 days with elevated ozone and/or particulate pollution. 

“Bad air quality statistics are more than a number—air pollution makes kids with asthma sicker and stresses their moms and dads,” said Almeta Cooper, Georgia Field Coordinator with Mom’s Clean Air Force. “We must do better for our next generation and their caretakers. The infrastructure package and Build Back Better Budget have important climate provisions that will do just that for Georgia.”

In the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2020, researchers reviewed Environmental Protection Agency air pollution records from across the country. The report focuses on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution, which are harmful pollutants that come primarily from burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline, methane gas and from wildfires. 

Researchers also produced a digital map of bad air days across the country in 2020. With the COVID pandemic in full swing, last year included periods in which people spent more time at home and drove their gas-powered vehicles less—yet bad air quality persisted. 

While the report finds that air pollution problems persist, the solutions for cleaning our air are readily achievable. The report recommends that policymakers electrify our buildings, equipment and transportation; transition to clean renewable energy; and strengthen federal air quality standards. 

Congress is currently considering two important pieces of legislation that would help propel Georgia’s cities into a healthier clean energy future with less air pollution: The bipartisan infrastructure bill—which among other provisions would jumpstart cleaner transportation projects, including $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations—and the Build Back Better Act, which could create even larger investments in environmental solutions that also clean our air.

“67 to 101 days of elevated air pollution in these cities means millions of Georgians were breathing unhealthy air for one out of every four to six days in 2020,” said Wahl. “It’s time to turn that around. By transforming the way we produce and consume energy in our state and zeroing out pollution from all aspects of our lives, we can build a healthier future that protects our lungs and our environment at the same time.”