Air quality improves in Northwest Arkansas, Fort Smith metro

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 1,049 views 

Residents might breathe easier knowing the Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith metros have some of the cleanest air in the United States, a new report shows.

Nonprofit American Lung Association recently released its 23rd annual State of the Air report that listed the two metros among the cleanest for short-term particle and ozone air pollution. And, Washington County was listed as one of the cleanest U.S. counties for the two pollution metrics. The county also received A grades for zero high ozone or high particle pollution days from 2018-2020.

Asked why the air quality is so good in Northwest Arkansas, Jill Smith of the American Lung Association noted the good-quality upwind air coming into the region and that pollution sources here likely aren’t creating difficult problems. She added that a more detailed explanation was beyond the report scope.

Laura Turner, senior manager of advocacy for the American Lung Association, said Northwest Arkansas was listed among the cleanest areas for short-term particle and ozone air pollution for the 11th and sixth consecutive years, respectively. Since the 2021 report, it improved from 105th to 118th most-polluted for year-round particle pollution.

“To be anything in the 100s is good on this measure,” Turner said. “It improved to the best-ever average level, and it meets the national standard.”

Since the 2021 report, the Little Rock metro area improved from the 28th to the 56th most-polluted for year-round particles. But it ranked 99th for short-term particles and dropped from the list of cleanest metro areas. It ranked 100th for ozone pollution. In the metro, Pulaski County improved on some of its air quality metrics, Turner said. But like the metro, the county’s short-term particle pollution worsened.

Nationwide, the following California metros had the worst particle and ozone pollution: Fresno, Bakersfield and Los Angeles. The majority of the top 25 most-polluted metros were in the western United States. The report attributed this to a rising number and size of wildfires resulting from climate change-related heat and drought.