Bristol County, MA, Providence County get mixed grades in air quality report


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A new report from the American Lung Association (ALA) finds more than 4 in 10 people, or 135 million, in the United States live with polluted air.

The 22nd annual State of the Air report shows 14.8 million fewer people are breathing unhealthy air compared to last year’s report, and the burden is not shared equally.

According to the report, people of color were 61% more likely to live in a county with unhealthy air than white people, and three times more likely to live in a county that failed all three air quality grades.

The report grades counties and cities based on annual and short-term particle pollution, in addition to ozone pollution.

Particle pollution, which can come from wildfires, wood-burning stoves, diesel engines, and more, plus ozone pollution, or smog, are two of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution.

Both ozone and particle pollution can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and are linked to developmental and reproductive harm. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer.

Authors of the report, which includes data from 2017-2019, say more than 123.2 million people lived in a county earning a failing grade for ozone pollution. This includes vulnerable people at an increased risk of harm from ozone, such as 28.1 million children and 18.2 million people ages 65 years or older, the report says.

According to the ALA, more than 200,000 Rhode Island residents are living with lung diseases like asthma, COPD, and lung cancer, as well as heart disease.

Both Bristol County, Mass., and Providence County received the same grades in each category — an “F” for ozone pollution, an “A” for short-term particle pollution, and a passing grade for annual particle pollution.

The Providence metro area (which the ALA notes include Boston and Worcester) was among the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution and showed improvement for year-round particle pollution. Counties within the metro area also recorded fewer unhealthy days for ozone pollution.  

Notable RI County Grades on ozone:

  • All three reporting counties — Kent, Providence, and Washington — maintained failing grades from last year’s report
  • Despite failing grades, each county reported decreased levels of ozone pollution
  • All other counties did not collect this data

Notable county grades on particle pollution:

  • All three reporting counties maintained “A” grades for short-term particle pollution
  • All counties continued to meet the national standard for year-round particle pollution
  • All three reporting counties reported improved levels of year-round particle pollution
  • Providence county ranked as the most polluted for year-round particle pollution in the Boston-Worcester-Providence metro area
  • All other counties did not collect this data

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