Wildfires in Montana have made the state a prominent feature in the American Lung Association’s 20th annual State of the Air report.
While Montana shows good ozone levels, its rankings in the short and long term pollutant lists don’t bode well for lung health. The city of Missoula ranked number 5 in the country with the most Short-Term Particle Pollution, up from twelfth last year.
Missoula and Ravalli Counties both made the list of 25 most polluted counties for short-term pollutants in the country. Other Montana counties pinpointed in the report were Lewis and Clark, Lincoln, Silver Bow, and Flathead.
Lyndsay Alexander, with the American Lung Association, said wildfires and the past few years’ record-high temperatures have largely contributed to that.
“Why that’s important is that this year’s report is documenting the impact of climate change on air quality. We see that warmer temperatures and longer and hotter wildfire seasons and changing weather patterns are leading to increased levels of ozone and particle pollution in some parts of the United States,” said Alexander.
She also said fine particulate pollution, no matter the source, can contribute to premature death, asthma attacks, strokes, heart attacks, and lung cancer. Research from the University of Montana this year shows that lung function decreased in the year after the 2017 Rice Ridge fire burned over 160,000 acres near Seeley Lake in Missoula County.
Cheyenne, Wyoming, meanwhile, tied for number 1 in the top 25 cleanest U.S. cities for year-round particle pollution, with Casper, WY tied at number 4. A handful of counties were mentioned for low levels of pollution, including Laramie, Park, and Teton.
The American Lung Association’s State of the Air report references data from 2015 to 2017 and shows that, during that time, more than 40 percent of Americans lived in areas with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution.