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Environment

Air pollution in Eugene and Springfield in 2020 increases calls for greener future

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Tiffany Eckert
/
KLCC

 

A new report tracking air quality across the country found Eugene and Springfield experienced 73 days of elevated air pollution in 2020. 

The ‘Trouble in the Air’ report was conducted by the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG), Environment Oregon Research and Policy Center, and the Frontier Group. Members involved with the study held a press conference in Eugene on Wednesday.

 

“Even one day of breathing in air pollution is dangerous for our health, 73 days or 20% of the entire year is unacceptable and we need to do more to deliver cleaner air for our communities,” said Jessie Kochaver, a Climate Associate with Environment Oregon. Kovchaver said air pollution increases the risk for pre-mature death, asthma, and other health problems.

Findings suggest that while most people stayed home and drove less because of the pandemic, air pollution persisted. This was because the western U.S. saw some of the worst wildfires in 2020 including the Holiday Farm fire near the McKenzie River. 

University of Oregon professor Daniel Gavin, who’s a member of the Institute of Ecology and Evolution, said over the past five years the state has experienced an unprecedented amount of fire activity.

“Up until last year, the Labor Day fires of 2020, it was very hard to find a precedent for fires like that, those are the result of the hot, dry summer, but also the powerline ignitions,” he said. “[The fires] would not have happened without that ignition source.”

Gavin said we’re living in a more flammable environment, and recent fires have set us up for recurrent fires.

“As those areas regrow, their hazard for burning increases so I believe from my experience studying fire in Oregon that we are setting ourselves up for a more smokey future,” Gavin said.

Researchers analyzed data from the Environmental Protection Agency's most recent air pollution records. According to the report, data focused on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution which come primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, including coal, diesel, gasoline, methane and wildfires. 

Other parts of the state experienced high levels of air pollution with Klamath Falls and Harney County experiencing the most days with elevated levels during 2020. Klamath Falls experienced 154 days while Harney County had 111 days.

Eliza Garcia, a climate activist and vice chapter chair with UO’s OSPIRG student organization said it feels like the fires have been getting worse. Garcia described her life growing up in southern Oregon and her love of the outdoors. 

“I don’t feel comfortable knowing that my parents, my grandparents, and my friends are at risk having to flee and evacuate these deadly fires,” she said. 

The report calls for the electrification of homes and businesses, greener transportation, renewable energy, and higher air quality standards. 

Rep. Peter Defazio, who was also present at the press conference, highlighted the need to add more electric charging stations to support the transition away from gasoline-powered vehicles.

DeFazio cited his work on including a greenhouse gas reduction program in the $3.5 trillion federal reconciliation bill that’s currently working its way through congress.

“I can’t make [the reduction program] mandatory, but I’m going to have a very large $4 billion incentive program, $4 billion to deal with equity programs for areas that have been tremendously impacted by the problems we have with pollution and infrastructure,” he said.

DeFazio said it’s both an exciting and vexing time in Washington, D.C. but said he's hopeful the bill could pass in the next month.

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