Jul 13, 2023 - News

Air quality concern could become the new normal

Smoke covers downtown Detroit on June 27. Photo: Samuel Robinson/Axios

Historic air pollution has made this a hazy summer.

Why it matters: More bad air days could bring a shift in how the general public thinks about air quality.

Zoom in: Our air quality was bad before smoke from Canadian wildfires brought low visibility and a distinct smell last month.

  • The American Lung Association's 2023 "State of the Air" report found that Detroit had more of the most harmful types of air pollution — particle pollution and high ozone — compared with other U.S. cities.
  • Metro Detroit was ranked the 12th most polluted metro by annual particulate matter.

Yes, but: Detroit was also one of just two cities that improved enough to move off the list of 25 cities with the worst ozone pollution and now meets the EPA threshold under federal ozone standards.

Catch up quick: The air quality alert for high ozone and smoke June 29 and 30 made history: It was the first time in Michigan's history that air quality warnings were issued due to two pollutants in the same area.

  • That was days after IQAir’s real-time Air Quality Index ranked Detroit as the city with the worst air quality in the world.
  • We were under an Air Quality Alert again due to elevated ozone levels on Monday.

Between the lines: Ozone pollution has been a recurring problem over the decades due to the city's density and industrialization, but it's becoming a bigger problem across the state because of climate change, Ken Fletcher, director of advocacy of the American Lung Association in Michigan, tells Axios.

What they're saying: "If this continues — and I'm concerned that it will — this could become the new normal, which is very problematic," Fletcher says.

  • "It's really going to impact people with asthma, COPD, the elderly and their ability to go outside. People who work outside are going to have to seriously start protecting themselves."
  • "Moving forward, just as we look to see if its raining that day, I think we'll need to look and see, 'What is the air quality index?'"

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