Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Air quality in Athens is generally good, but some concerns remain

University of Georgia

Air quality in Athens is generally good, although there is some cause for concern. That’s according to the latest “State of the Air” report from the American Lung Association.

Athens-Clarke County scored an A on ozone levels, with no reported days of high ozone between the years 2020 and 2022. Ozone levels have fallen drastically in recent years, after hitting an all-time high in 2005-2007.

If you look at the change over time, as we have in the 25 year history of this report, you can see that the Clean Air Act is working.
Danna Thompson, American Lung Association

"When you think of ozone, it's good up high, it's bad nearby," said Danna Thompson, Director of Advocacy for the American Lung Association in Georgia. "When it's part of the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, it's helpful, but at the on the ground level, it's it's dangerous and harmful for us to to breathe."

The city also did well in 24-hour particle pollution, scoring a B on the Lung Association’s report card.

When it comes to annual particle pollution, however, the city scored a failing grade, meaning that while the city saw just one individual day of dangerous particle pollution, overall, the level is higher than it should be, according to the EPA. That measurement has been steadily growing over the last decade. Recent changes to EPA standards put Athens-Clarke County into the failing category.

"We did this report based on that new standard," Thompson said. "Clarke County passed last year."

Short-term particle pollution can be harmful if it is inhaled over just a few hours or days, even if the year-round averages are low. "Short-term levels" refers to spikes. These represent levels averaged over a 24-hour period. Those periods of high levels can be dangerous, even deadly.

"Year-round" refers to an annual average level that represents the concentration of particles day-in-and-day-out. Breathing particle pollution over time, even at much lower levels than the dangerous spikes, also causes harm.

Both ozone and particle pollution can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, preterm births and impaired cognitive functioning later in life. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer.

Thompson says that overall, urban areas across the country are seeing cleaner air. She attributes that to a greater focus on air quality and on the Clean Air Act.

"We talked a lot about the worst in this report," she said. "Keep in mind that if you look at the change over time, as we have in the 25 year history of this report, you can see that the Clean Air Act is working. We want to continue that progress."

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.