Georgia is a state located within the Southeastern region of the United States, bordered by other states such as North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida. It is home to over 10.6 million people, making it a state with a sizeable population, placing it in 8th place out of all states ranked in America based on population size. Georgia has a diverse landscape, with different areas of its landmass covering vastly different types of terrain, as well as having a climate that can be described as ‘humid subtropical’.
Georgia has a large amount of its economy based around a variety of different industries such as agriculture (producing goods such as poultry, peanuts and soybeans), mining different types of clay, sand and stones, as well as the manufacturing industry, largely centered around textiles, chemical products, as well as both transportation and electronic equipment. This massive population size, coupled with the large amounts of industries occurring within the state, has lead to some depreciation in the quality of the air as a result. This is a natural consequence in many areas of the world, with widespread anthropogenic and industrial activity causing many pollutive issues to occur.
To use some of Georgia’s cities as examples, the city of Cartersville came in with a PM2.5 reading of 11.6 μg/m³ as its yearly average over 2020. This reading placed Cartersville into the ‘good’ air quality ratings bracket, which requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 10 to 12 μg/m³ to be classified as such. Whilst this is not an overtly disastrous reading, it is only 0.4 units away from being moved up into the next pollution bracket (which would be the ‘moderate’ rated one).
This reading also placed it in 1st place out of all cities ranked in Georgia, as well as 1969th place out of all cities ranked worldwide. This is a fairly high ranking on the world circuit, and the city, along with many others in the state, had several months of the year in which the PM2.5 count rose significantly higher than its yearly average, indicating a fair amount of pollutive issues taking place.
In order to explain the higher levels of PM2.5 on record throughout the various cities in Georgia, it is necessary to examine the main or most prominent causes of pollution that occur. In regards to PM2.5, it refers to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, making it approximately 30 times smaller than that of a human hair’s width. It can be comprised of many different organic or inorganic materials, and has the ability to go down to sizes far smaller (with sizes of 0.01 and far beyond all being possible). Due to these various elements, it presents a significant danger to human health when respired, and along with other types of pollution present in the air (such as PM10 or nitrogen dioxide), is used as one of the main components in the calculation of the overall level of air pollution present.
Looking at the main causes of pollution, the most prominent ones would be vehicular emissions, with countless numbers of cars on the road at any given time. Along with rising vehicle ownership, these two factors combined can see huge amounts of exhaust fumes being given out in high quantities on the roads across Georgia. To help keep the various industries moving, heavy duty vehicles would also be needed, with large trucks and lorries present on the road to carry goods for both import and export.
These heavy duty vehicles often utilize diesel fuel, and due to their great size and weight, along with the unclean or unsustainable fuel source, often put out much greater quantities of air pollution than smaller personal vehicles would, although the combination of both can lead to large accumulations of various chemical pollutants, the names of which will be discussed in short. Other prominent causes are emission from power plants and factories, many of which use diesel fuel for their heavy machinery, as well as other fossil fuels such as natural gas or coal to provide energy to the millions of citizens throughout the state, particularly salient during the winter months when the sudden drops in temperature cause a spike in demand for energy, and thus a spike in the PM2.5 levels.
Other sources of pollution worth noting are ones such as demolition sites, road repairs and construction areas, forest fires occurring in various areas across the state or even in other states (with wind direction and strength sometimes determining where the vast clouds of smoke will end up, which is sometimes unfortunately directly over a city or county). With all of the aforementioned factors, along with mining sites and any area that disturbs large amounts of earth, dust or finely ground particles, there is often a huge amount of finely ground or coarse particles released into the atmosphere as a result, which can cause the PM2.5 and PM10 levels to go up significantly.
With air pollution becoming a more prominent topic in recent years, with many incentives being put into place to reduce the amount of air contamination occurring, there are also the factors of preventative measures that individuals can employ in order to keep themselves safe when the pollution levels do have sudden spikes occur. It is of great importance to acknowledge that no portion of any society is safe from the harmful effects of pollution, with even healthy young adults succumbing to health issues if their exposure is severe enough. However, there remains certain demographics who are even more at risk for a number of reasons, usually pertaining to their health status, age and lifestyle.
These vulnerable groups include people such as young children and the elderly, as well as pregnant mothers. People who live sedentary lives and those who smoke may be at greater risk, as well as those who have preexisting health conditions, compromised immune systems or hypersensitivity towards certain chemical pollutants. These groups should take extra care to reduce exposure during periods of higher air pollution.
Some of the more prominent pollutants found in the air in Georgia would be ones such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), ozone (O3), as well as a variety of dangerous fine particles. These include ones such as black carbon, as well as finely ground silica dust. Both are highly carcinogenic when respired, and can find their release from combustion sites as well as construction or repair areas.
Other pollutants include volatile organic compounds (VOC's), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, as well as microscopic rubber or plastic particles, heavy metals such as mercury or lead, as well as dioxins or furans. Some examples of VOC's include chemicals such as benzene, toluene and formaldehyde, which can also be found in certain household products, particularly ones that contain adhesives or varnishes.
Observing the pollution data collected over the course of 2020, there are distinct time frames in which the PM2.5 levels were seen to rise, with three prominent parts of the year all displaying heightened levels of pollution. One of these periods was the month of March, which saw in every city on record in the state a significant jump in the PM2.5 readings, sometimes going up by several rankings. To give an example, Cartersville had a reading of 9.6 μg/m³ in February, which then spiked dramatically up to 12.9 μg/m³ in March, going from the WHO's target goal of 10 μg/m³ or less all the way up to the moderate bracket of pollution (12.1 to 35.4 μg/m³ required).
This was also present in Crandall, which had a reading of 8 μg/m³ in February that went up to 10.5 μg/m³ in March, as well as Atlanta which saw a similar situation with 7.3 μg/m³ jumping up to 10.9 μg/m³.
Other periods of high pollution were the months of June, July and August, as is to be expected during the summer months due to higher instances of smog being formed, a pollution buildup that is of particular concern across American cities and states alike. Lastly, the third portion of elevated pollution came at years end, with the months of November and December (which are usually the worst offending months for PM2.5 spikes due to the temperature drop) showing heightened readings. Cartersville had the highest reading in the state taken over the course of 2020 with a number of 16.6 μg/m³ taken in December.
To highlight an abnormality, the cleanest reading of the entire year was recorded in Columbus during the month of December, with an extremely respectable reading of 3 μg/m³. This shows the sporadic differences in pollution readings present across cities, depending on factors such as their population size, geography as well as the level of industry. In closing, nine out of all fourteen cities on record in Georgia came in with PM2.5 readings that ranked them above the WHO's target goal in December, showing that it was the month that prevailed in being the most polluted, with July, August and March following closely behind.