New report: Trouble in the Air: Oregon experienced elevated levels of polluted air in 2020

Media Contacts
Jessie Kochaver

PORTLAND, OR – According to a new report from Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and OSPIRG Foundation, the Portland metro area suffered through 55 days of elevated air pollution in 2020. Eugene experienced 73, and Klamath Falls and Harney County both saw over 100.  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 Jessie Kochaver, Campaign Associate with Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center. “100 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. 

“Air pollution poses harm to our health, which then affects other aspects of our lives: school, work, and family. Every Oregonian deserves clean and healthy air to breathe,” said Mary Peveto, Executive Director of Neighbors for Clean Air.


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. 

“Air pollution damages our environment, harms public health, and drives the climate crisis. One of the top contributors to air pollution nationwide—and the number one source of carbon pollution in the U.S.— is the transportation sector,” said Congressman Peter DeFazio. “The good news is we have the solutions to protect our air and leave a healthier planet for future generations. We can do this by decarbonizing our transportation systems, buildings, and by raising air quality standards at the federal, state, and local levels.  As Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, I’m committed to making investments that drastically cut emissions and ensure more livable communities for all.”

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 a bipartisan infrastructure bill that will jumpstart cleaner transportation projects, including $7.5 billion for 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,” said Maribeth Guarino, Health Care Advocate with OSPIRG Foundation. “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.”


Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment.

OSPIRG Foundation is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being. 

Frontier Group is a nonpartisan research and policy development center, providing information and ideas to help build a cleaner, healthier and more democratic America.