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Report: Western cities continue to dominate rankings of most polluted by ozone, particulates

 Haze over Salt Lake City
Adobe Stock
Haze over Salt Lake City

A new report from the American Lung Association finds that cities across the West are heavily impacted by ozone and particulate pollution.

Those pollutants can increase the risk of premature birth, damage airways and worsen heart disease, among a number of other serious health impacts. This year’s State of the Air report again found that particulate pollution worsened across a broad swath of the West, and cited wildfires as a key factor.

“The combination of policy-driven reductions in emissions on the one hand and climate change-fueled increases in pollution on the other hand is driving a widening disparity between air quality in eastern and western states, especially for particle pollution,” the report reads.

Reno, Denver, Salt Lake City and Boise were among the 25 cities most impacted by short-term particulate pollution. Denver and other Colorado Front Range cities, as well as Salt Lake City, also appear on the list of cities most polluted by ozone. Western cities dominate both rankings, as well as the year-round particulate pollution list.

You can see if your city is one of the most polluted in the country here.

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and nitrogen oxides (NOx) are two of ozone pollution’s key ingredients, according to the report.

“The other thing we have going on in the western U.S. is we have a lot of oil and gas around and they can emit plenty of VOCs in that process,” University of Utah atmospheric scientist Jessica Haskins told the Mountain West News Bureau.

She said the West’s high elevations and potent sun are also at play.

Given the unique chemistry behind ozone generation, efforts to reduce this pollution need to be tailored to different communities, according to Haskins. But she said everyday residents can help do their part to bring dangerous pollution levels down.

“I think one thing that people don't think about in their daily lives and they probably could is, ‘What is today's air quality supposed to be like?’” she said. “And take a look and say, ‘Hey, you know, it is a really hot day. We're supposed to be getting a bunch of wildfire smoke from California and the state air quality forecast thinks we're going to have potentially a lot of ozone out there.’”

“So maybe I choose not to drive that day,” she continued. “Maybe I choose not to mow my grass that day.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Murphy Woodhouse