Here’s how many days some Central Texans were breathing highly polluted air last year

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The areas of Austin, Round Rock and Georgetown experienced elevated levels of air pollution in 2020 — Austin even ranks among the cities with the most days of pollution in Texas.

There were 103 days of elevated pollution in the Austin-metro area in 2020, according to a new report from the nonprofit advocacy Environment Texas Research and Policy Center.

Environment Texas Executive Director Luke Metzger says that’s unacceptable.

REPORT: Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans breathed polluted air in 2020

“Even one day of breathing in polluted air has negative consequences for our health,” said Metzger. “… We need to do more to deliver cleaner air for our communities.”

The true number of highly polluted days in Austin is likely higher, Environment Texas says. The organization’s ozone monitor, previously located at Murchison Middle School in central Austin, was offline for most of 2020 due to construction.

Data gathered from the monitor takes three years to determine a region’s pollution levels — the one previously housed at Murchison won’t be ready for use again until spring 2024. In the meantime, another monitor will be used, but Environment Texas says it’s believed to record lower concentrations of pollutants.

Environment Texas collaborated with Frontier Group and TexPIRG Education Fund for the report, which Dr. Lisa Doggett, President Texas Physicians for Social Responsibility says points to the threat of pollution to public health.

“Not only does air pollution contribute to climate change, but it increases rates of respiratory disease, heart attacks, pregnancy loss, and even neurologic conditions and mental health problems. Air pollution also increases the risk of death among those who are infected with COVID-19. We need to take immediate action to shift away from fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy, to protect the health of our families and communities, as well as our planet.”

Dr. Lisa Dogget, President Texas Physicians for Social Responsibility

Researchers recommend solutions for cleaner air to policymakers that include increased funding for walking, biking and transit. A transition to clean renewable energy and strengthening federal air quality standards would also help. 

Harmful pollutants in the air primarily come from burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline, methane gas, and from wildfires. Environment Texas says 17,000 Texans die each year from air pollution causes.

How climate change and air pollution are linked

The presence of climate change results in three consequences that are directly linked to air pollution.

First, higher temperatures that increase ozone levels. Second, the decrease in air circulation which traps polluted air near the ground where it is most harmful. And finally, more frequent and intense wildfires.

Wildfires in western states are already prevalent than they were a few decades ago, the smoke from which is a major source of pollution.

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