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(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
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|Air pollution level
|Air quality index
| 37 US AQI
PM2.5 concentration in Birmingham is currently 1.8 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value
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|Tuesday, Feb 27
Good 26 AQI US
|Wednesday, Feb 28
Good 15 AQI US
|Thursday, Feb 29
Good 33 AQI US
Good 37 AQI US
|Saturday, Mar 2
Good 35 AQI US
|Sunday, Mar 3
Moderate 66 AQI US
|Monday, Mar 4
Moderate 57 AQI US
|Tuesday, Mar 5
Good 33 AQI US
|Wednesday, Mar 6
Moderate 55 AQI US
|Thursday, Mar 7
Moderate 57 AQI US
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Birmingham is a city in the north-central region of the U.S. state of Alabama. According to a census conducted in 2019, the population was estimated to be approximately 210,000 people. This qualified it as being the most populous city in Alabama. Birmingham is the seat of Jefferson County, Alabama's most populous and fifth-largest county by area. The metropolitan area consists of Hoover too and together they have an estimated population of almost 1.2 million inhabitants.
During the middle part of 2021, Birmingham was enjoying a period of “Good” quality air with a US AQI reading of just 24. This United States Air Quality Index number is an internationally used set of metrics supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and is used to compare air quality in different cities around the world using comparable standards. It is calculated by using the levels of the six most commonly found pollutants. If figures are not all available, the figure is calculated using what information is available. For Birmingham, the only recorded figure was for PM2.5 which was measured as being 5.8 µg/m³. This is a low figure and well beneath the recommendation by the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) target figure of 10 µg/m³ or less.
With a relatively low level of air pollution doors and windows can safely be opened to allow the fresh air into the rooms.
Air quality can be affected by many things and therefore changes relatively quickly depending on atmospheric conditions.
Looking back at the figures for 2020, published by IQAir.com, the worst air quality occurred in August when the recorded figure was 12.1 µg/m³ which could be classified as being “Moderate” when readings are between 12.1 and 35.4 µg/m³. Air quality that was categorized as being “Good” was enjoyed in March, June, July, November and December with figures being between 10 and 12 µg/m³. March and November provided the best with low figures of 10.5 µg/m³. The remaining six months of the year were split up into three pairs when the air quality was lower than 10 µg/m³ which is the target set by the World Health Organization (WHO). January and February returned readings of 7.8 µg/m³ and 7.9 µg/m³, respectively. During April and May it was slightly lower quality with respective figures of 9.4 µg/m³ and 8.4 µg/m³. The third pair of months was September and October with figures of 9.9 µg/m³ for each month.
Historically, air pollution records were first held in 2017 when a figure of 10.2 µg/m³ was recorded. 2018 achieved the WHO target with a 9.8 µg/m³ reading. A slight decline was registered in the following year with an annual average of 11.5 µg/m³. Finally, in 2020 the figure was below the target once more, albeit just with a 9.9 µg/m³ registered figure. However, there is doubt as to the true reflection of reality with figures during the COVID-19 pandemic because many sources of pollution were stopped. That is, many vehicles were unused as the drivers were not required to commute to work on a daily basis as they were allowed to work from home. Several factories which did not provide essential items were also requested to cease operations temporarily so needless to say, their emissions stopped too.
In 2019, the American Lung Association ranked Birmingham as 14th on its list of U.S. cities with the highest levels of year-round particulate air pollution. It reported fewer “spike” days, in which particle air pollution reached unhealthy levels for short-term exposure. Birmingham is also ranked as the 46th worst city in terms of ozone pollution.
The particle pollution tracked in the report typically contains soot or tiny particles from coal-fired power plants, diesel engines, wildfires or wood-burning equipment. However, year-round particle pollution levels have dropped due to the closure of some coal-fired power plants and the cessation of the use of many old diesel vehicles.
In the 1960s, truckers who traveled to Birmingham christened it the “Pittsburgh of the South” because as soon as they reached the outskirts they could see an orange haze hanging over the city.
In 1970, the Clean Air Act was passed in the US in an attempt to rid the air of soot and smog and other pollutants. Just one year later, the local authority had ordered the closure of at least 23 industrial outlets that were major polluters that could not be cleaned up economically. The Act was first introduced in Birmingham and closely monitored to see what the effects could be. If successful, then it could be rolled out across the country.
The air pollution in Birmingham is exacerbated by the topography, geography and weather conditions. Birmingham sits in a valley and any pollutant that is emitted there or travels into the valley can get trapped. During Birmingham’s hot sultry summers, pollutants build up and increase due to the sunlight. Due to inversions, the pollutants become trapped at ground level where ozone is then formed due to the sunlight.
Air pollution is caused by airborne particles that are released into the air. Air pollution can be the result of burning fossil fuels, wildfires, volcanos, internal combustion engines (e.g., found in most vehicles), windstorms, and so forth. Some air pollution is manmade and some air pollution is caused naturally.
Air pollution is the number one environmental factor for premature deaths and diseases in the world. More than 8 million people die each year as a result of exposure to pollution caused by burning fossil fuels alone.
The Clean Air Act of 1970 requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for six common air pollutants which are also known as “criteria pollutants.” These are carbon monoxide, lead, ground-level ozone, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter (both PM2.5 and PM10), and sulfur dioxide.
Particle pollution, also known as particulate matter (or just “PM”) is made up of tiny solid particles and liquid droplets in the air, or a combination of both. PM comes in many different shapes and sizes and can include everything from acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, and metals, to microscopic bits of soil, pollen, and dust. These are usually referred to as PM2.5 and PM10 as they are the common ones and most deadly. These particles are breathed into your lungs and can even get into your bloodstream. There is no safe level of exposure to particle pollution.
Ground-level ozone is produced by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of ultraviolet rays. Breathing in ozone, which is the most common pollutant in the USA, can trigger many different health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation and congestion. Pregnant women, children under the age of 14 and senior citizens are groups of people most likely to be adversely affected by ozone. Those who have to spend long periods outdoors, due to their work and those who suffer from pre-existing respiratory problems will also suffer the consequences before others.
Sulfur dioxide is a pollutant of major concern. Emissions come primarily from power plants that burn low-quality fossil fuels with a high sulfur content to generate electricity, along with industrial processes and some forms of transportation that use very low-grade fuel. Sulfur dioxide can cause respiratory problems; people with asthma are particularly sensitive to breathing air contaminated by sulfur dioxide.
Traffic congestion is an everyday fact of life, and it’s getting worse every day. Federal rules require that metropolitan planning organizations located in Transportation Management Areas (TMAs) develop and instigate a Congestion Management Process (CMP) as part of the metropolitan transportation planning process. Queuing vehicles produce a large amount of pollution at road junctions and the wear on tires causes minute amounts of rubber to enter the atmosphere where they contaminate the surroundings. A Transportation Management Area (TMA) is defined as an urban area with a population of over 200,000 inhabitants.
They would be responsible for monitoring, measuring and diagnosing the causes of congestion on the region’s multi-modal transportation systems and evaluate and recommend alternative strategies to manage or improve congested areas.
Active Transportation, also known as non-motorized transportation, refers to human-powered types of travel such as walking and cycling. The local authorities are currently introducing more cycle tracks and pedestrian walkways to encourage people to leave their cars at home, especially for short journeys. There is an increasing demand for alternatives to motor vehicle travel and there is a growing need for infrastructure and development patterns that support what has widely become known as “active transportation”.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 249,000 premature deaths were attributable to outdoor air pollution and around 83,000 premature deaths were attributable to air pollution due to the use of solid fuels in the home in the Americas in 2016.
Furthermore, short-lived climate pollutants, such as black carbon, are powerful climate forcers with potential negative consequences on global warming and its impact on health.
Different studies have linked air pollution not only to respiratory and heart problems, but to impaired eyesight, cognitive problems and the risk of dementia, among other effects.
Those who live near main roads or industrial areas are often exposed to high levels of outdoor environmental pollution. Homeowners who use solid fuel as a source of domestic energy, both for heating and cooking, may be the most affected by indoor ambient air pollution.
Air pollution is now considered to be the main environmental risk to public health in the Americas. Worldwide, nearly 7 million premature deaths were attributable to ambient air pollution in 2016. About 88 percent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.
Exposure to high levels of air pollution can cause a variety of adverse health outcomes: it increases the risk of respiratory infections, heart disease, strokes and lung cancer, which affect the vulnerable population in a greater proportion, children, older adults and pregnant women. The most harmful pollutants for health, closely associated with excessive premature mortality, are fine PM2.5 particles that penetrate deep into the bronchial tubes as far as the alveoli. Particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) is the term for particles that are suspended in the air, such as dust, soot, smoke and aerosols. Large amounts of particulate matter are typically emitted from sources such as diesel vehicles, burning waste and crops, and coal-fired power plants.
Particles less than 10 microns in diameter (PM10) present a health problem because they can be inhaled and accumulate in the respiratory system. Particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5) are called "fine" particles and are at greater health risks. Due to their small size (about 1/30 the average width of a human hair), fine particles can lodge deep in the lungs where they can easily pass into the bloodstream and thus travel around the body. The main health consequences of exposure to these particles are lung and heart disease, but there are many other impacts.
Scientists are finding that every organ in the body is susceptible to adverse effects from air pollution. Recent studies have shown the impact of this pollution on sight, and also its contribution to a reduction in cognitive ability and increased risk of dementia.
The industrial sector is required to use of clean technologies that reduce emissions from industrial chimneys; improved urban and agricultural waste management, including recovery of methane gas from landfills as an alternative to incineration (for use as biogas).
The transportation sector is encouraged to adopt clean electricity generation methods. The prioritization of rapid urban transport, pedestrian and bicycle paths in cities, and interurban transport of cargo and passengers by rail together with the use of cleaner heavy-duty diesel engine vehicles and low emission vehicles and fuels, especially low sulfur fuels.
As far as electricity generation is concerned the increased use of low-emission fuels and non-combustion renewable energy sources (solar, wind or hydroelectric) are encouraged.