By Arthur Zuco
Imagine standing on the banks of the Hudson River, air so thick with smog you can barely make out the massive pillars of the George Washington Bridge. Cars zoom past you fueled by leaded gasoline. A faint sound of music wafts through the air.
Wait. Is that disco music?
Though many communities still face a variety of air quality issues, our nation’s air quality has steadily improved since 1970. In all those years, many would claim that cleaning up our air would come at the expense of economic growth.
Yet, in the same period of time, gross domestic product is up almost 250 percent and aggregate emissions are down 70 percent. So why bring all this – and the nightmarish memories of platform shoes and leisure suits – up now?
Well, EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation recently released its annual AirTrends Report 2016, which tracks air quality data and trends through 2015. It’s important to track progress as we work to ensure all Americans are free from breathing toxic and harmful air pollution. We know that overall air quality is improving but we can’t stop yet.
There is still much work to do, especially in our communities with pressing environmental justice concerns. Recent studies have reaffirmed that certain communities, including low-income communities and communities of color, are disproportionately affected by the impacts of air pollution. Therefore, it is imperative that we utilize tools, such as the Air Trends Report, to identify how and where our air quality is improving, and where it is not, so we can prioritize those areas that most need our assistance.
So, go check out the report!
It is presented through an interactive web app featuring a suite of visualization tools that allow the user to:
- Learn about air pollution and how it can affect our health and environment;
- Compare key air emissions to gross domestic product, vehicle miles traveled, population, and energy consumption back to 1970;
- Take a closer look at how the number of days with unhealthy air has dropped since 2000 in 35 major US cities;
- Explore how air quality and emissions have changed through time and space for each of the common air pollutants; and
- Check out air trends where you live.
Users will also be able to share this content across social media, with one-click access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and other major social media sites.
The data shows that our nation’s air continues to improve. We may have come a long way from bell bottoms and leaded gasoline, but there is still much work left to be done to move us forward. EPA must continue work with our partners at the state, tribal, local and neighborhood levels to ensure healthy air for all communities. I encourage all of you to take a look and read about the progress made over the years.
About the Author: Arthur Zuco worked in conjunction with the Air Quality Analysis Group of the Office of Air Quality Planning Standards, which has led the effort to redesign both the AirTrends website and 2016 Air Trends Report. Experts from various disciplines contributed content and oversaw the development spanning over eleven months. Collectively, we are proud to bring the American people a compelling story about our improving air quality in an interactive and mobile-friendly tool. The employees who worked on the report, and this blog post, include Halil Cakir, Jan Cortelyou-Lee, Josh Drukenbrod, Aaron Evans, Brett Gaines, Brett Gantt, David Mintz, Liz Naess, Tesh Rao, Adam Reff, Kayla Schulte, Madeleine Strum, Ben Wells, and Arthur Zuco.