The state of Michigan's air

Apr 28, 2011

The American Lung Association released its State of the Air Report this week.

More than a dozen Michigan cities made the list of the most polluted cities in the country for ozone pollution – also known as smog – and particle pollution – also called soot. The major sources of this pollution are factories and power plants... and our cars and trucks and even our lawnmowers.

The report has three separate lists of the most polluted cities.  There are lists for ozone pollution, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution.  Detroit ranked 17th most polluted for year-round particle pollution. Grand Rapids tied for 43rd worst ozone pollution.

Shelly Kiser is the director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Michigan. 

"Ozone is created in the atmosphere with a couple chemicals that need heat and light, so it's usually something we see in the summer. It increases your risk of early death, you're more likely to have asthma attacks. Particle pollution, on the other hand, is what we think of as soot, so it's tiny pieces of something that can blow in the wind, and they are so tiny that they can go way down in the deepest part of your lungs and really wreak havoc there. It increases your risk of death during high levels over a short period of time, or at low levels over a long period of time."

There is some good news in the report. Many Michigan communities have improved air quality over previous years and some Michigan cities actually made the list of the cleanest cities in the country.  The cleanest cities for particle pollution were the greater Lansing area and Saginaw.

Kiser says:

"We're making progress and air pollution is being reduced gradually over time, but we've got a ways to go."

She credits the Clean Air Act regulations for cutting down on pollution from industries.  The report calls for even tighter regulations on coal-burning power plants and tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks. 

But Kiser says there are several things anyone can do to reduce air pollution: 

  1. Make sure your car is tuned up and running well
  2. Fire pits are fun... but wood burning contributes to particle pollution.  So you might limit your use of the fire pit.
  3. Mow your lawn in the evening instead of the morning or during the day. Ground-level ozone forms when exhaust from lawnmowers (and cars and trucks and emissions from industries) combines with sunlight and heat.  By mowing in the evening, when it's cooler and the sun is setting, you're less likely to contribute to the formation of ozone pollution.