Michigan's air quality gets better, and worse

Apr 24, 2013

MSU researchers use a mobile lab to check air pollution levels
Credit Thomas Gennara/MSU / AP Photo

The quality of the air in southwest Michigan took a hit last year. But a new report by the American Lung Association suggests that, in general, Michigan’s air is getting better.

The State of the Air 2013 report gives Allegan County an “F” and Kalamazoo County a “C” for ozone levels. But both got much better marks for soot and other particulates. No data was collected in Calhoun, Van Buren, and Saint Joseph counties.

Jim Harrington is the Lung Association’s field organizer in Michigan. He says there was a lot more ozone in the air in 2012 in west Michigan because of long spells of hot weather. Because both ozone and particulate pollution can travel on the wind, Harrington admits that some of the region’s air quality problems are imported from coal plants and other sources in Illinois and Wisconsin. But others are generated at home. Harrington says that includes vehicles as well as the increasing popularity of wood burning heaters as the cost of other fuels goes up. He says burning wood puts much more soot into the air compared to natural gas. 

Harrington says air pollution levels affect everyone but are of special concern to people with asthma, COPD, and other lung ailments. 

Credit American Lung Association

  Overall, though, Harrington says the quality of Michigan’s air has improved in the last 14 years. He says the elevated ozone levels in southwest Michigan last year may have been a weather-related “blip”. Harrington gives credit for the general improvement trend to enforcement of the federal Clean Air Act by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA recently proposed Tier Three standards that would take effect in 2017 if they are approved. Among other things, they would require removal of pollution-creating sulphur from gasoline and improved emission standards for car makers. Harrington says the new standards would have the same pollution-reduction effect as taking 33 million vehicles off the road.

Harrington says the best way for individuals to limit air pollution is to “go green” by using mass transit as much as possible and switching to renewable energy like wind and solar. He also says people should pay attention when ozone alerts are issued and limit driving or mowing lawns.