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Report: Columbus air quality improves despite being named most polluted city

The MORPC is in the process of concluding a yearlong study gathering data from air sensors in the community to look at pollution patterns.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A scathing report released in March labeled Columbus as the most polluted city in the United States when it comes to air quality. The report from the Swiss air technology company IQAir is based on air quality alone.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission tracks air quality throughout Franklin County with 20 sensors. It cross-references its data with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to issue air quality alerts for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma. 

When Bradi Whetstone, a sustainability officer at MORPC, saw the report, her first thought was: where is the data?

“I was very confused, very skeptical,” said Whetstone. “We know from reports that we released to the public and from EPA data, that air quality has been improving in the region for several years. We know from our recent 2022 report that our particulate matter levels were mostly in the good air quality category. And we haven't exceeded the federal standard for about 12 years now. So it's inconsistent with our understanding of pollution in central Ohio.”

Whetstone says MORPC plans on meeting with members from IQAir as soon as this week to discuss how it sourced its data and to learn more about its methodology.

“I think that we want to get a better idea and we're open to talking about the report,” Whetstone said. “But overall, we know from the work that we're doing in central Ohio, that the Columbus region has good air quality overall, we're improving, and it's a long-term trend. And we're doing a lot of work with our local members and partners to try to continue that improvement.”

According to Whetstone, MORPC is in the process of concluding a year-long study gathering data from air sensors in the community to look at pollution patterns. The project is expected to wrap up this month and results are expected this summer. 

MORPC plans on using this information for additional strategies to reduce pollution in certain zip codes, primarily in Black and lower-income communities, where life expectancy has dropped.

“That doesn't mean that we don't have room to improve here,” said Whetstone. “We know in central Ohio, a lot of [pollution] is coming from cars and trucks. We do have some industry but not at the level that other regions have. And that's another source. And we know that other regions have issues with wildfires, and we don't have those issues here in central Ohio, which is another reason why we're questioning this report.”

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