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Honolulu and Kahului among best in US with low levels of air pollution

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File photo of Central Maui. PC: Wendy Osher

The 2022 “State of the Air” report, released by the American Lung Association, finds that urban Honolulu’s rankings were among the best in the United States for some of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution: particle pollution and ozone. 

The “State of the Air” report is the Lung Association’s annual air quality “report card” that tracks and grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution (also known as smog), annual particle pollution (also known as soot), and short-term spikes in particle pollution, over a three-year period.

This year’s report covers 2018-2020. See the full report at Lung.org/sota.

“The levels of ozone seen in many cities across the nation can harm the health of all people, but particularly at risk are children, older adults, pregnant people and those living with chronic disease,” said Pedro Haro, Executive Director of the American Lung Association in Hawai’i. “Due to our geography and growing attention to renewable energy, we are fortunate to have some of the cleanest air in the United States in Honolulu, while Hawai’i County continues to struggle with particle pollution due to volcanic smog, also called vog.”

Ground-level Ozone Pollution 

Honolulu again ranked as one of the cleanest cities in the country for ozone pollution, counting zero days of unhealthy air due to ozone pollution during the reporting period of the “State of the Air” 2022 report. Honolulu has been on the list of cleanest cities for ozone since the inception of the report in 2000. There is no data available from the other counties In Hawai‘i as the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality System only collects ground-level ozone pollution from urban Honolulu.

Particle Pollution in Hawai‘i

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The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. All counties in Hawai‘i had a “PASS” grade for particle pollution. This year, Honolulu measured at less than half the highest amount recorded for the city in 2009-2011.

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As in the past several reports, the Honolulu metro area and Kauaʻi County recorded no unhealthy particle pollution days during the current reporting period. Both counties have also not seen an unhealthy day of particle pollution since the 2015 “State of the Air” report.

Hawaiʻi had two cities on the list of the top five cleanest cities in the nation for year-round particle pollution, Honolulu ranking at number three and Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina ranking at number four in the nation. 

Inversely, Hawai‘i County once again received a failing grade for 24-hour particle pollution while Maui County received a C grade.

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“While in general Hawai‘i has some of the cleanest air in the nation, we must remain vigilant when phenomena that threaten our clean air occur, such as unhealthy vog episodes. It’s due to vog that Hawaiʻi County doesn’t share the same clean air that we see on Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, and Central and West Maui” said Haro. 

The report found that nationwide, nearly 9 million more people were impacted by deadly particle pollution than reported last year. It also shows more days with “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality than ever before in the two-decade history of this report.

Overall, more than 137 million Americans live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. Communities of color are disproportionately exposed to unhealthy air. The report found that people of color were 61% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one pollutant, and 3.6 times as likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all three pollutants.

The addition of 2020 data to the 2022 “State of the Air” report gives a first look at air quality trends during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of the shutdowns in early 2020, there was no obvious improvement. 

The American Lung Association is calling on the Biden administration to strengthen the national limits on both short-term and year-round particulate matter air pollution. Stronger standards will educate the public about air pollution levels that threaten their health and drive the cleanup of polluting sources in communities across the country.

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