May 2, 2023 - News

San Antonio's air quality status hasn't changed much

Data: EPA; Note: A concentration below 12 micrograms per cubic meter is considered healthy; Chart: Axios Visuals

Air quality in San Antonio, as measured by fine particle pollution, has stayed about the same 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.

  • They are linked to nearly 11,000 excess deaths across the U.S. annually, by one estimate.
  • Non-white and low-income Americans are at a higher risk of death from exposure to fine particle pollution compared to other groups, per a 2022 study published in Nature.

Driving the news: National Air Quality Awareness Week started Monday.

By the numbers: The three-year rolling annual average concentration of fine particle pollution across San Antonio was 8.7 micrograms per cubic meter in 2021 (the latest year for which data is available), compared with 9 micrograms in 2012 — a 3% decrease.

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

Yes, but: The EPA reclassified Bexar County from “marginal” to “moderate” nonattainment in November after the area failed to significantly improve the air quality over three years, according to the San Antonio Report.

Of note: In January, CPS' board voted to close the coal-fired J.K. Spruce 1 plant by the end of 2028 and convert the Spruce 2 coal plant to run on natural gas.

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."

  • Changing the standard to 9 micrograms would prevent up to 4,200 premature deaths per year and 270,000 lost workdays per year, and result in as much as $43 billion in net health benefits in 2032, the agency says.
  • The EPA is also taking other steps to improve air quality, including via newly proposed vehicle emissions standards.

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