New report: Trouble in the Air: Detroit experienced 95 days of polluted air in 2020

Media Contacts
Morgan Hayward

Former Director, Destination: Zero Carbon, Environment America

Ann Arbor, MI – The Detroit-Warren-Dearborn metro area, home to 4.3 million people, suffered through 95 days of elevated air pollution in 2020, according to a new report from Environment Michigan Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and PIRGIM Education Fund. Air pollution increases the risk of premature death, asthma attacks, cancer and other adverse health impacts.

“Even one day of breathing in polluted air is dangerous for our health,” said Eve Lukens-Day, Global Warming Solutions Associate with Environment Michigan Research & Policy Center. “95 days is unacceptable and we need to do more to deliver cleaner air for our communities.” 

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 analysis, which looks at the most recent data available, 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 and methane gas, and from wildfires. 

Days with elevated ozone, particulates and total pollution, by geographic area, 2020

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. 

“One of the top sources of air pollution is transportation,” said Matt Casale, Environment Campaigns Director with U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “As our driving has picked up in 2021, you can be sure our vehicle pollution has kept pace. If we want to make a dent in these terrible numbers and save lives, we have got to wean ourselves off of burning fossil fuels to get around.”

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 considering infrastructure legislation that would jumpstart cleaner transportation projects, including setting aside $7.5 billion in electric vehicle charging stations. Congress is also considering the Build Back Better Act, which could create even larger investments in climate solutions that can also clean our air.

“When the health of a family member is threatened, we do what it takes to save them,” Lukens-Day said. “Every child, grandparent and American should be able to breathe clean air. Our leaders need to act swiftly to zero out pollution from all aspects of our lives. When they do, we’ll all breathe easier.”