Day 4: Air Quality & Your Community - Air Quality Awareness Week 2019

(This blog is one part of a series about air quality and your health. We encourage you to check the Air Quality Index (AQI) to decide when it’s best to be active outdoors. See part 1part 2part 3, and part 5.)

By all measures, air quality in the United States as a whole has improved dramatically over the past several decades. This is due in part to the Clean Air Act, other national and local initiatives, and advances in clean technology. It’s quite remarkable: there are more of us than ever before, and we’re using more energy and driving more miles — but we’re producing less pollution than decades ago.

A chart comparing areas of growth in the U.S. to air emissions from 1980 to 2017. Since 1980, the gross domestic product has increased rapidly by 165%. Vehicle miles traveled has similarly increased by 110%. The U.S. population has increased less rapidly, but has still seen 44% increase. Energy consumption increased modestly between 1980 and 1995, but has largely stabilized since then around 25%. Carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 12% an average, though that growth rate has slowly decreased beginning in 2005. Finally, aggregate emissions of the six common air pollutants have decreased by 67%.
Even though we drive more, produce more, and have bigger communities, we produce 67% less pollution today than we did in the 1980s.

It’s great news! We’ve managed to separate economic growth from increased air pollution. At least for many of us…

The reality is that clean air is not always enjoyed equally. Commonly, underserved, minority and low-income communities are exposed to the worst air, especially in cities. Emissions from diesel-powered vehicles — a leading source of pollution in cities — is one factor that intensifies this disparity.

NDEP and city of Reno staff in front of Reno's new, cleaner sewer/vacuum truck.
NDEP and city of Reno staff in front of Reno's new, cleaner sewer/vacuum truck.

Here at the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP), we are working to mitigate the effects of these vehicles (Nevada Diesel Mitigation Fund and Nevada State Clean Diesel Program) by offering grants to municipalities, school districts, and private fleets to swap old, diesel vehicles with either cleaner vehicles or technologies that produce a fraction of the pollution.

By funding the repowering or replacement of diesel vehicles, NDEP is helping remove the most polluting vehicles from the road — permanently. That means less pollution, especially in the communities and neighborhoods that need it most.

What can you do to help reduce air pollution in your community?

At Home. Use paints and cleaning products that are safe for the environment. Conserve electricity: Set your thermostat a little higher in the summer and lower in winter. Participate in local energy conservation programs. Look for the ENERGY STAR label when buying home or office equipment. Consider using gas logs instead of wood. Burn only dry, seasoned wood. Get more information at EPA Burn Wise.

On the Road. Choose a cleaner commute: Car pool, use public transportation, bike, or walk. Combine errands and avoid idling your engine. Be sure your tires are properly inflated. Keep your car, boat, and other engines tuned. Follow refueling instructions when you fill up at the gas station so that vapors don’t escape into the air. Be careful not to spill fuel, and always tighten your gas cap. Report excessive tailpipe pollution to the DMV Smog Spotter Program.

In the Garden. Mulch or compost leaves and other yard waste. Rake leaves instead of using a leaf blower. Use a manual lawn mower instead of electric or fuel-burning models. Plant more plants, especially trees!

the ndep logo
Our mission is to preserve and enhance the environment of the State in order to protect public health, sustain healthy ecosystems, and contribute to a vibrant economy.