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|1||Red Bluff, California|
|5||Palo Cedro, California|
|9||Burns Harbor, Indiana|
|10||Shasta Lake, California|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
|1||Austin North Interstate 35|
|2||1709 East 38th 1/2 Street|
|6||University of Texas - Nursing School|
|8||East Riverside - Oltorf|
|10||University of Texas - Disch-Falk Field|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
live AQI index
|Air pollution level||Air quality index||Main pollutant|
|Good|| 23 US AQI||PM2.5|
PM2.5 concentration in Austin is currently 1.1 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value
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|Monday, Dec 4|
Good 21 AQI US
|Tuesday, Dec 5|
Good 30 AQI US
|Tuesday, Dec 5|
Good 18 AQI US
Good 23 AQI US
|Thursday, Dec 7|
Good 28 AQI US
|Friday, Dec 8|
Moderate 52 AQI US
|Saturday, Dec 9|
Good 8 AQI US
|Sunday, Dec 10|
Good 9 AQI US
|Monday, Dec 11|
Good 12 AQI US
|Tuesday, Dec 12|
Good 9 AQI US
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Austin air quality is relatively clean compared to that of other major cities in Texas. Since at least 2005, Austin’s air quality index (AQI) averaged less than 50 (“good”) annually, indicating that the air poses little to no risk to health.
In 2019, November and December were Austin’s most polluted months, with AQI averages of 52 and 51 (“moderate”) respectively. This differed from previous years, such as in 2016, 2017 and 2018, where the summer months of July and August were the most polluted.
Despite low annual and monthly averages, Austin air quality varies more significantly day to day and hour to hour. From 2016 to 2018, Austin experienced a weighted average of 3.3 unhealthy ozone days and 1.3 unhealthy PM2.5 days.1 On average, 36% of hours were rated an AQI of “moderate,” while 1% was “unhealthy for sensitive groups”.2
The World Health Organization has set an even more stringent standard for PM2.5 than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recommending no more than 10 μg/m3 of annual exposure (compared to the 12 μg/m3 for the US EPA). According to this guideline, Austin experienced seven months of unhealthy air. Moreover, while levels within this PM2.5 target are recommended, the WHO states that no level of exposure has been shown to be free of health impacts.3
Ozone is another pollutant that poses health risks to Austinites. Ozone is a gas pollutant formed in the air when precursor pollutants react in sunlight. Since Austin has a relatively warm climate with abundant sunshine, the city faces challenges in meeting federal standards. Travis County, where Austin is located, has an “F” rating for ozone pollution, with 3.3 unhealthy ozone days. This is just barely above the 3.2 unhealthy days federal limit, and was the closest Travis county has ever been to making an attainment since recording began in 1996.
Follow Austin live air quality data at the top of this page, and use forecast air quality data in Austin to stay one step ahead of air pollution by taking recommended preventative actions.
Overall, PM2.5 and ozone air pollution levels have steadily improved in Austin since 2011. 2018 and 2019, however, were off-trend, experiencing an increase in both pollutant levels.
For PM2.5, Austin experienced an 8.8% increase from 2017 to 2018, and another 13.8% increase from 2018 to 2019. The increase in particulate matter was similarly noted in other Texas cities, such as San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. Common to all Texas cities is a sharp rise in illegal industrial and petroleum activity. A report published by the Environment Texas Research and Policy Center found that Texas oil and gas facilities released 135 million pounds of illegal air pollution in 2018, more than double the amount from the year before in 2017.4
Low fines amounting to roughly one cent per pound of illegal air pollution has likely resulted in increased abuse. The problem is not an issue of legislation, but rather weak enforcement, as only 1/100th of what could be levied is typically being charged.
Another likely contributor to increased air pollution in Austin is the city’s growing population and worsening traffic. Austin is now the 14th most congested city in the United States, with the average resident spending roughly 66 hours annually stuck in traffic.5 This figure has risen steadily since 2009. There is hope, however, of reduced emissions here with the recent surge of electric vehicle ownership. As of February 2020, 10,000 electric vehicles have been registered in Austin, representing an average annual increase of 39% over the past five years.6 An increase in electric vehicles is likely to significantly reduce Austin AQI, as transportation remains the largest contributor to the city’s air quality.
2020 may see reduced air pollution levels, particularly owing to fewer vehicles on the road. During the coronavirus pandemic, Austin air quality improved the most out of all Texas cities, with an ozone reduction of 24% from March 11 to April 13, and 16% from March 11 to April 30.7 These improvements highlight what Austin’s air quality could look like if vehicular emissions were reduced either by fewer cars on the road or a greater share of electric/hybrid vehicles. Experts warn, however, that these reductions are only temporary. Long-term improvements must be created by reducing transportation emissions assuming normal activity, supporting clean and renewable energy, and increasing regulation for industrial polluters.
Transportation and industry represent the largest contributing sources of air pollution in Austin.
While an increase in vehicles has contributed to worsening congestions throughout the city, the surge of electric vehicle ownership spotlights an opportunity for reduced emissions in the future.
Texas’s well-known oil and gas industry is another significant contributor, as PM2.5 and ozone pollution can travel far distances, even from refineries far outside the city limits.
Environmentalists and public health advocates have concerns that regulatory rollbacks within this industry by the Trump administration could exacerbate this problem by undermining previously established standards.8 In addition, during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TECQ) relaxed enforcement of EPA requirements for leak detection and repairs and allowed power plant operators to regulate themselves, citing health concerns for traveling agents.9 Noting that this industry already released 135 million pounds of illegal air pollution in 2018, many criticize this decision as opening the door for more air pollution in Austin.
Sandstorms represent a rare though not uncommon pollution event in Austin, which can occur when trade winds carry dust from the Sahara 5,000 miles over the Atlantic to Central Texas.10 This last occurred in June of 2020, causing air quality levels to rise to “unhealthy” levels for several days. These weather events are more likely to occur in the spring and summer.
Austin AQI varies across the city, as hyperlocal emission sources can have significant effects on an area’s air quality. Use the Austin air pollution map to understand the impact of emission sources near and far as they move with wind.
With more up to date statistics now available on the IQAir website, the figures for air quality in Austin can now be quoted. In 2020, Austin came in with a PM2.5 reading of 9.3 μg/m³ as its yearly average, a reading that placed it within the World Health Organizations (WHO's) target bracket of 10 μg/m³ or less, for the most optimal quality of air. Whilst this is still a great target to achieve, it is of note that this reading is on the higher end of the spectrum, and the city still had many months in which the pollution levels rose significantly higher.
To cite some of these poorer months, as well as the cleaner ones, Austin saw its most polluted periods of the months of March and April, as well as September later in the year. March came in with a PM2.5 reading of 11.5 μg/m³, placing it within the ‘good’ ratings bracket. This requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 10 to 12 μg/m³ to be classified as such, giving it a very fine margin of entry, and whilst it is less optimal than the WHO's target goal of 10 μg/m³ or less, it is still not a disastrous reading by any measure.
The following month however went up to 13.1 μg/m³, making April place within the ‘moderate’ pollution bracket, which requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 12.1 to 35.4 μg/m³. This is where the harmful effects of air contaminants can start to rear their head, and whilst it must be noted that any reading at all of air pollution has the chance to cause adverse effects, the higher it goes over the WHO's target, so too does the chance of these effects occurring.
September also came in with a reading of 10.4 μg/m³, placing it again in the good ratings bracket. This indicates that two months of the year came in with a ‘good’ air quality rating, one month came in with a ‘moderate’ rating, with the remaining nine months coming in within the WHO's target goal.
The cleanest period of time in Austin was between the months of May and August, which had 4 months of uninterrupted WHO target readings, which were 8 μg/m³, 8.9 μg/m³, 7.7 μg/m³ and 8.2 μg/m³ respectively. This made July the cleanest month of the year with its reading of 7.7 μg/m³. In closing, Austin’s yearly average of 9.3 μg/m³ placed it in 2956th place out of all cities ranked worldwide over the course of 2020.
There are a number of ill side effects that can occur to one’s health when exposed to high enough levels of air pollution, with the severity of these adverse effects depending on both the length of exposure, as well as the number of pollutants that an individual is exposed to, along with any individual predispositions towards chemical sensitivity and the like.
For more short term and superficial health issues, instances of dry throats, coughing, chest pains as well as respiratory tract infections can occur, although these will typically cease if exposure to pollution is reduced or stopped. For more serious conditions, ones that fall under the COPD bracket (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) can start to occur, which includes illnesses such as pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema and aggravated forms of asthma.
Rates of cancer can go up, as well as damage to the skin occurring. It has been well documented that extended exposure to air pollution can cause rapid aging of the skin, as well as other inflammatory conditions appearing, with eczema, psoriasis, severe acne and atopic dermatitis all being possible. Skin cancer is the most severe health risk that can occur, and to mention this topic further, rates of lung cancer can also skyrocket, particularly in individuals that live in highly polluted areas such as near busy roads or industrial areas, or have occupations that expose them to large amounts of carcinogenic material.
Whilst there are no portions of the population that are truly safe from the ill effects that pollution can bring, with even health or fit adults succumbing to various illnesses if pollution exposure is severe or left unchecked, it still stands to reason that there are many groups of people amongst the general population that are at further risk for aggravated health conditions. These include ones such as the elderly or infirm, as well as young children.
During the formative years of childhood, exposure to pollution can cause a myriad of health issues such as allergies to appear, which can then turn into lifelong issues if left unchecked. As well as this, due to the extremely small size of particulate matter, it can enter into the bloodstream and cause damage to the nervous system and other bodily functions, stunting both physical and mental growth.
Pregnant women are also particularly at risk, with unborn babies also susceptible to the effects of chemical pollutants and fine particulate matter (once again due to its ability to enter the bloodstream of the mother and hence reach the child). This can result in miscarriages, babies being born with a low birth weight as well as prematurely, all of which can cause a spike in infant mortality rates.
Aside from the previously mentioned ozone (O3) pollutant having been mentioned, there are many more that can enter into the atmosphere from a variety of polluting processes, with both chemicals and particulate matter being caused by many different sources.
Some others would include ones such as black carbon and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), both of which are formed from the incomplete combustion of both organic matter as well as fossil fuels. Some examples of VOCs include chemicals such as benzene, toluene, xylene, methylene chloride and formaldehyde.
These are all extremely dangerous and very easy to respire, particularly due to their tendency to remain in a gaseous state even at much lower temperatures. Other pollutants of note are carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), with the last two finding a majority of their release from vehicle exhausts. These can contribute heavily to instances of acid rain, as well as causing inflammation or irritation to the lung tissue of anyone who is subject to breathing them.
+ Article Resources
 American Lung Association. (2019). State of the air – 2019.
 Capital Area Council of Governments. (2020). Central Texas air pollution levels compared to national standards.
 World Health Organization. (2020). Air quality guidelines – global update 2005.
 Pabst E. (2020). Illegal air pollution in Texas: Air pollution from startups, shutdowns, malfunctions and maintenance at industrial facilities in Texas in 2018.
 Hall K. (2019, August 22). Austin traffic worsens, now ranking 14th most congested city in nation.
 Newberry B. (2020, February 1). Electric vehicles surge in Austin as more models expected to go on market.
 Watkins K. (2020, May 20). Texas’ air quality improved during the stay-at-home order. Here’s why it probably won’t last.
 Buchele M. (2020, April 20). Austin's air quality is getting worse, American Lung Association says.
 Price A. (2020, April 6). TCEQ loosens enforcement amid COVID-19.
 Ruiz M. (2020, June 26). Saharan dust still gives hazy conditions Sunday, but air quality in Austin has improved.