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Air Quality Report Shows Ozone Increases in New Mexico

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New Mexico's Eddy County is one of two rural counties in the United States that are ranked among the top 25 counties for high ozone pollution in the 22nd annual report from the American Lung Association. (sierrclub.org)
New Mexico's Eddy County is one of two rural counties in the United States that are ranked among the top 25 counties for high ozone pollution in the 22nd annual report from the American Lung Association. (sierrclub.org)
 By Roz Brown - Producer, Contact
April 22, 2021

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- This year's State of the Air report from the American Lung Association found mixed air-quality results in New Mexico for the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution.

The report compiled data for 2017 through 2019, and does not include the 2020 pandemic lockdown.

JoAnna Strother, senior director of advocacy for the American Lung Association, said Eddy County, home to significant fossil-fuel extraction and development, is one of two rural counties ranked among the top 25 most polluted counties in the U.S.

She added, however, Albuquerque also struggled with unhealthy days due to ozone levels.

"Now ranked 26th most-polluted city for ozone, and it was 42nd last year, so that's quite a jump for the metro," Strother observed.

The Albuquerque metro, Las Cruces, Lea and Eddy counties all saw increases in the number of days ozone reached unhealthy levels. Overall, the report found four in 10 people, or 135 million Americans, live in counties with unhealthy levels of particle or ozone pollution.

The report gives "F" grades for ozone smog to Eddy, Lea and San Juan counties because of oil and gas production.

Laura Kate Bender, healthy air campaign national assistant vice president for the Association, said the group has created a petition, calling on the Biden Administration to prioritize historically burdened communities for pollution cleanup.

"We have long called for limits on methane pollution and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from oil and gas operations, in part because of the ozone impacts."

Strother noted communities of color are more likely to be exposed to polluted air than are white people if they live near generating stations, freeways or factories or heat their homes with wood.

"About 61% of people of color live in a county with a failing grade for at least one of the pollutants we're looking at," Strother pointed out.

In addition to people of color, Strother stressed unhealthy air especially impacts children, those 65 and older, people with COPD, lung cancer or cardiovascular disease.

She added healthy people also can experience negative effects where air pollutants are high but strong state and federal methane and ozone rules could help improve air quality.

Disclosure: Sierra Club, Rio Grande Chapter contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Public Lands/Wilderness, and Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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