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Big Island Air Receives an F Grade from ‘State of the Air’ Report

April 22, 2020, 9:47 AM HST
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Ash rises above Halema‘uma‘u within Kīlauea’s summit caldera in this May 27, 2018. PC: USGS photo by K. Anderson.

Honolulu and Maui have some of the cleanest air in the country, while Hawai‘i County has some of the worst.

The American Lung Association’s 2020 “State of the Air” report found that Honolulu and Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina continue to have clean skies despite increased volcanic smog. Honolulu City and County set record levels for low amounts of annual particle pollution, the report said.

Hawai‘i County, however, received an F grade in both 24-hour and annual particle pollution. Volcanic activity from Kīlauea emits large amounts of PM 2.5 as well as sulfur dioxide into the air. Large levels of particle pollution were seen during the volcano’s activity in 2018.

The Lung Association’s annual air quality “report card” tracks Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of particle pollution and ozone during a three-year period. Once again, the report found that nearly half of all Americans were exposed to unhealthy air in 2016-2018.

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, which has been responsible for dramatic improvements in air quality,” said Pedro Haro, Executive Director for the American Lung Association in Hawai‘i. “Hawai‘i residents are seeing these benefits and continue to breathe clean air.”

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Each year the “State of the Air” provides a report card on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants: ozone pollution, also known as smog, and particle pollution, also called soot.

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The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and can increase the risk of premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage and developmental and reproductive harm.

Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer, and new research links air pollution to the development of serious diseases, such as asthma and dementia.

This year’s report covers 2016, 2017 and 2018, the years with the most recent quality-assured data available collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies. Notably, those three years were among the five hottest recorded in global history.

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Rising temperatures lead to increased levels of ozone pollution. Changing climate patterns also fuel wildfires and their dangerous smoke, which increases particle pollution. Ozone and particle pollution threaten everyone, especially children, older adults and people living with a lung disease. Although this report does not cover data from 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of air pollution on lung health is of heightened concern. Learn more about that at Lung.org/covid-19.

“We all have the right to breathe clean, healthy air. The 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act serves as a critical reminder that Americans breathe healthier air today because of this landmark law,” said Haro. “We must stand up for clean air — especially to safeguard our most vulnerable community members. Our leaders, both here in Hawai‘i and at the federal level, must take immediate, significant action to ward off climate change and other threats to the quality of the air we all breathe.”

Learn more about Hawai‘i’s rankings, as well as air quality across the nation, at Lung.org/sota. For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health, healthy air and threats to air quality, contact Holly Harvey at [email protected] or call at 206-512-3292.

2020 Cleanest Cities

Cleanest for Ozone Pollution (zero unhealthy air days – all counties)

  • Anchorage, AK
  • Casper, WY
  • Fairbanks, AK
  • Honolulu, HI
  • Missoula, MT

Cleanest Cities for Year-Round Particle Pollution (cities with the lowest annual levels)

  • 1. Honolulu, HI
  • 2. Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, HI
  • 3. Cheyenne, WY
  • 4. Elmira-Corning, NY
  • 5. Wilmington, NC

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