There was some good news this month that hasn’t been widely reported. Andrew Wheeler, administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, reported that the nation’s air is getting cleaner, especially in the Midwest.
Six of the most common air pollutants — carbon monoxide, lead, ground-level ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide — are known as “criteria” pollutants and were often at dangerous levels for public health in many cities when the EPA was created in 1970.
“Our latest air progress report shows a remarkable decrease in air pollution — both over the past three years and in the past half-century. This data shows conclusively that the U.S. can continue to have world-leading air emission reductions for our citizens alongside economic growth,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said that since 1970, the combined emissions of the six criteria air pollutants and their precursor pollutants have dropped an incredible 77%, while the United States GDP grew 285%. In other words, Wheeler said, today’s air is 77% cleaner than it was in 1970.
Wheeler said the air quality success has been due to true partnership with states. Since the beginning of 2017, 21 areas in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio have moved from non-attainment to attainment, easing lending and permitting restrictions for thousands of local businesses.
So what’s attainment? Achieving attainment means lower sulfur, particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, ground-level ozone and lead emissions. This is especially important for children, whose lungs are still developing, and those who suffer from respiratory conditions like chronic bronchitis and asthma — many of the same conditions that make COVID-19 viral infections more dangerous.
Wheeler said the EPA still has more work to do, including developing a new standard for heavy-duty trucks, referred to as the Cleaner Trucks Initiative.
The EPA also updated and relaunched its air quality website — AirNow.gov — last month. The site reports real-time air quality using the official U.S. Air Quality Index, which tells the public how clean or polluted the air is and steps they can take to reduce their exposure to pollution. It even has a place to check out fires, such as when the southern breezes blow up smoke from spring burns in Kansas.
We like the improved site and work of the EPA. Our only request would be to have more cities in Nebraska added besides Omaha and Lincoln. Nevertheless, the EPA should be applauded for its successes, including keeping residents better informed of air quality conditions.