air quality 1 origPhoto Courtesy of Google Images

What Hides in Plain Sight in the Magic City:
Air Pollution and Climate Change

 

Sufia Alam
Editor in Chief
sufia@uab.edu 
Sufia Alam 

 

As global warming increases in the world, southern states like Alabama will be more impacted than northern states, according to a journal by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

 

The reason why is simple, a rise in temperatures will be considerably more damaging in states such as Alabama that already experience very high temperatures for parts of the year, according to the journal.

 

The study also projects that if these states do not take preventative measures to decrease their emissions, heat-related deaths by the end of this century will be projected to be equal to the number of people killed in vehicle accidents every year.

 

Furthermore, Birmingham is projected to have the 15th worse climate-related change impact.

 

A survey conducted by the One Country Project and Third Way states that 45% of Alabamians polled said that climate change is having a serious impact right now.

 

According to the United Nations Environment Program, air pollution and climate change go hand in hand.

 

Because of our resource-intensive lifestyles, humans are producing and consuming resources at a higher level than ever before. As a result, populations are also generating more greenhouse gases and air pollutants, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

 

“Air pollution is an increased amount of substances in the air, either particulate or gaseous, that can have harmful health effects to humans, plants, animals and the environment,” said Ruzmyn Vilcassim, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Department of Environmental Health Sciences.

 

graphPhoto courtesy of GASP

According to the United Nations Environment Program, climate change and air pollution are closely interlinked. If air pollution can be reduced, then climate change will also be slowed down.

 

Because of Birmingham’s unique characteristics, air pollution affects the city differently than other cities in the south.

 

“First of all, we’re in Jones Valley, which can create geographical challenges with the mountain and everything,” said Michael Hansen, executive director of GASP. “Places like Salt Lake City have similar challenges because of their geography.”

 

GASP is a nonprofit organization that advocates for clean, healthy air in Alabama, said Hansen.

 

Since their launch in 2010, GASP has been advocating for clean air policies for all residents of Alabama, regardless of where they live, according to their website.

 

Additionally, unlike other states, Birmingham is relatively new, less than 150 years old.

 

“We’re a post-civil war city and we were built on the industrial revolution,” Hansen said. “There’s a reason we’re called the Magic City, because we sprung up overnight due to all of the natural resources, a blessing and a curse that came with it years later from the pollution.”

 

Because of abundant resources, Hansen said pollution has increased at a much higher rate than other cities in the South. But this doesn’t mean Birmingham is destined to be a pollution filled city, Hansen said.

 

While Birmingham often ranks very low in terms of improvements being made to air quality, (such as Alabama being named the 12th worst state for toxic air pollution resulting from power plants) it is not because Birmingham is slowing polluting more and more, Hansen said.

 

“While our rank is a lot lower, our output of air pollution has gone significantly down,” Hansen said.

 

GOPR0983Photo by Payton Parrish/ Video Editor

This year, we had fewer “spike days” of particulate pollution compared to last year and the city is currently in compliance of the current standards of its six pollutants of EPA regulations, according to Hansen.

 

But to mitigate air pollution, doing the bare minimum is not enough.

 

“Jefferson County is always defaulting toward the federal baseline, which is the bare minimum,” Hansen said. “I would really love to see Alabama and Jefferson County pursue more stringent, more protective health standards like other cities and States have done.”

Additionally, with the city changing, this means air pollution may also vary than how it has been in the past.

 

“If you look at construction beyond like the interstate and things like that, and all the skyscrapers going up, how are we taking into consideration hyperlocal air impacts and other environmental impacts adequately?” Hansen said. “Those are questions I can’t answer. I wish that we went to answer those questions before proceeding with these projects.”

 

To fight air pollution, Vilcassim said it needs to be a joint effort, with policies and residents doing more.

 

“Maintain your cars, students can volunteer and help for research,” Vilcassim said. “Be responsible, use less, realize whatever you use has to come from some energy source.”

 

Birmingham and Air Pollution 
 Birmingham is ranked 15th for the most polluted city for year-round particle pollution.

 Shelby, Colbert, Jefferson and Madison County had the highest levels of Ozone compared to the rest of the counties in Alabama.
 Birmingham continues to meet official air quality standards but is the only southeastern regional city to show an increase in particle levels.

Several Alabama cities including Birmingham, Hoover, Gadsen and Tuscaloosa have been named cleanest based on short-term air particle pollution.

 Alabama is the 12th worst state for toxic air pollution resulting from power plants.

 Alabama is responsible for releasing 28,573,077 pounds of toxic air pollution.

*information gathered from the American Lung Association

 

 

 

 

**** Earlier, this article referred to Michael Hansen, as Michael Hanson, this was an error. One of his quotes had also been adjusted for accuracy.****

 

 

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