AUSTIN (KXAN) — Air quality is just one part of what people pay attention to when watching the weather, especially those who have respiratory illnesses like asthma. It is part of why the Clean Air Force of Central Texas watches our air quality — to make sure our levels of pollutants like ozone and fine particulate matter remain at levels better than what is accepted.

Ozone is a colorless toxic gas. It is formed by oxygen through electrical discharges or ultraviolet light.

Fine particulate matter or PM 2.5 are tiny particles that reduce visibility and often lead to a hazy sky. This happens when there is little or no wind moving the air.

Is it a health risk? These fine particulates will travel into the respiratory area connected to the lungs. Some people experience irritation in their eyes, nose and throat. Lung function can be affected and can worsen medical conditions like asthma and heart disease.

A study released by The Guardian revealed the 10 worst places for air pollution. Austin was not on this, thankfully. However, head east to find one of those cities; Houston made the list.

The Clean Air Force of Central Texas reports Austin has the best air of any large American city. The capital city is the only large city that has always met every EPA air quality standard.

Austin/Round Rock enjoys better air quality than much of Texas

There are six pollutants that are measured by the EPA to obtain the standard. They are carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, ground-level ozone, particle pollution and sulfur oxide. Austin can be proud it has NEVER been out of attainment in any of these measures.

Going in-depth, attainment means the region stays below the minimum levels of pollution set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Overall pollution emissions have dropped during the last seven years. This is true of 2022 even with ozone season (March to October) being “terrible.” Austin had an Ozone Action Day 25 times in 2022.

However, the year as a whole was not a bad year for pollution.

The Austin-Round Rock metro area has consistently performed much better than the Texas average for ozone. The state’s average for ozone in 2021, the last reporting year, was 77. The Austin-Round Rock area did much better with an average of 63. We have beaten EPA standards each year since 2005 and are on course to repeat this in 2023.

Briefly, back to Houston. Parts of the Space City lie in what has been called “a cloud of pollution.” Why? The freeway system and its proximity to one of the country’s busiest ports and petrochemical processing cities. The Guardian’s study found this nugget: “Not only is Houston an oil industry infrastructure hub, its residents top the national chart for the most vehicles traveled every day.”

Houston smog

Houston was sixth on this list of areas of cities with too much pollution. The top five?

  1. Bakersfield, California
  2. South Los Angeles
  3. Chicago’s south and west sides
  4. North-west Indianapolis industrial zone
  5. Central Indianapolis

Yes, two parts of the Indianapolis area.

Austin can be proud that its air quality is one of the best.