May 16, 2023 - Health

Indianapolis' air quality now considered "healthy"

Data: EPA; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Air quality in the Indianapolis metro area, as measured by fine particle pollution, has improved since 2012, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report.

Why it matters: Fine particles, generated from fossil-fuel burning and other sources, can enter our bodies when we breathe, making their way to the lungs or bloodstream and causing myriad health problems.

  • Nonwhite and low-income Americans are at a higher risk of death from exposure to fine particle pollution, compared with other groups, per a 2022 study published in Nature.

By the numbers: The three-year rolling annual average concentration of fine particle pollution across the Indy area was 10 micrograms per cubic meter as of 2021 (the latest year for which data is available), compared with 12.4 in 2012 — a 20% decrease.

  • Concentrations below 12 micrograms per cubic meter are considered healthy, the EPA says — though it is seeking to tighten that standard.

The big picture: Air quality generally improved nationwide during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, in part, because fewer people were driving.

  • But as the pandemic ebbs and people's behaviors and activities return to normal, air quality nationally is worsening accordingly.

What's next: The EPA in January proposed reducing its fine particle pollution standard from 12 micrograms per cubic meter to "a level between 9 and 10."

  • The EPA is also taking other steps to improve air quality, including via newly proposed vehicle emissions standards.

Yes, but: Public health advocacy groups say the fine particulate standard should be even lower than the EPA's proposed range.

  • The agency's proposal "misses the mark and is inadequate to protect public health from this deadly pollutant," the American Lung Association said in a statement.

The other side: Industry groups, meanwhile, argue that lowering the standard would be overly burdensome.

The bottom line: As the fight over lowering the fine particle standard heats up, the EPA once again finds itself at the heart of the climate change and public health debate.


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