Florida is a state located in the Southeastern region of the United States of America, being bordered by other states such as Alabama and Georgia, as well as facing onto both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. It has a population of around 21 million inhabitants, a sizeable number that puts it in 3rd place out of all states in America based on their population size. As well as this it has an extremely powerful economy, which can have the unfortunate effect of adding to the air pollution issues that it faces. With a growing population, large amounts of tourism as well as other factors such as increasing vehicle ownership, there is much that Florida could do to reduce its pollution levels.
Referring back to its economy, much of it is focused around industries such as trade, transport, utility production, as well as centers for higher education and healthcare. Once again, with the mass movement of people focused around these various industries, particularly in regards to trade and transport (as well as tourism in the pre-Covid-19 era), there are subsequent depreciations in the level of air quality, for reasons that will be discussed in short.
Looking at some of the cities on record over 2020, there are a number that stand out with some significant pollution problems. One of them would be the city of Riverview, which came in with a yearly PM2.5 average of 15.7 μg/m³. This is a fairly high reading, one that would place the city into the ‘moderate’ pollution bracket, which requires a PM2.5 number of anywhere between 12.1 to 35.4 μg/m³ to be classified as such. This also placed the city in 1st place out of all cities ranked in Florida over 2020, as well as 1290th place out of all cities ranked worldwide, an extremely poor placing for an American city that indicates that the citizens of Riverview would be at major risk from pollution-related ailments due to having to breathe such contaminated air.
Other cities of note were Royal Palm Beach, which came in with a PM2.5 average of 13.4 μg/m³ over 2020, placing it in an equally poor global ranking of 1593rd place worldwide, as well as 2nd in Florida. Despite these cities having very clear pollution issues, it still stands to reason that there were many areas across Florida that had a much better quality of air.
Out of all 43 cities registered in Florida, two of them came in with a ‘moderate’ rated yearly average, one of them came in with a ‘good’ pollution ranking (Fort Lauderdale at 10.1 μg/m³, with a good ranking requiring a reading between 10 to 12 μg/m³), and the remaining 40 cities coming in with PM2.5 readings that fell within the World Health Organizations (WHO's) target goal of 10 μg/m³ or less, for the most optimal quality of air. As such, it can be said that Florida is subject to some acute spikes in pollution across certain cities, but maintains a good average across many of its other cities, with only certain months going up in their pollution levels due to both anthropogenic and meteorological reasons.
With such a huge population coupled with large amounts of industry, Florida would see much of its pollution arise from these two factors. The mass movement of people requires the use of vehicles, which in turn requires some form of combustion to take place. It is these various forms of combustion, in both vehicles, factories, power plants and even people’s backyards alike that are responsible for driving up the PM2.5 count across the state.
PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, going down to sizes as small as 0.001 microns across and beyond. Due to this incredibly small size, they present a significant danger to human health when respired, able to penetrate deeply into the tissue of the lungs with ease. Because of this, they are a major component used in the calculation of the overall AQI, or air quality index. Regarding the factors that drive this pollution count up, besides the numerous personal vehicles on the road, numbering in the hundreds of thousands at any given time, there are also larger or ‘heavy duty’ vehicles present. With large amounts of industry often comes the need for large scale importation and exportation, which introduces vehicles such as lorries and trucks onto the roads.
These often utilize diesel fuel, and due to their much bigger size and weight, as well as the fuel they run on, put out significantly more fine particulate matter and chemical pollutants than their smaller counterparts do, although the two in combination are a potent factor in driving up the PM2.5 count even further. Other prominent causes of pollution worth noting are ones such as construction sites, mining areas, road repairs and even demolition sites.
These can all throw large amounts of coarse particles and finely ground dust (PM2.5 and PM10) into the air, as well as leaking dangerous materials such as lead or mercury into the soil or nearby bodies of water. Forest fires across the state or even adjacent states can also create vast clouds of smoke that can travel many miles, often at the mercy of wind speed and direction, settling over cities or counties great distances away. These are among the main sources of pollution occurring in Florida, with emissions from both factories and power plants also being prominent causes of certain chemicals entering the atmosphere.
Observing the data collected over the course of 2020, there are several months of the year, as well as certain cities, that stand out as being the most polluted, with certain months showing large elevations throughout many cities. To mention a few, the city of Riverview had its most polluted period between the months of January all the way to September, with March being the most polluted month with a reading of 22.9 μg/m³. This month as well as April came in with elevated PM2.5 levels over many cities, which will be mentioned in short.
The 2nd most polluted city in Florida, Royal Palm Beach, had its most polluted months in January and February, with very high readings of 26.4 μg/m³ and 26. μg/m³. This made January in Royal Palm Beach the most polluted of the entire year, coming in at the higher end of the moderate pollution bracket. In terms of pollution levels across all of the cities, the months that stood out the most were March, April, June, July and September, many of which had readings that stood out even in the cleaner cities.
To cite some examples, Tallahassee came in with readings of 11.7 μg/m³ and 13.5 μg/m³ over March and April, despite having a much cleaner yearly average of 9 μg/m³, which was within the WHO's target goal. Tampa had a reading of 10.8 μg/m³ in April, the only month of the year in the city to exceed the 10 μg/m³ limit set out by the WHO and move up into the next pollution bracket. There are many more examples across the various cities in which the PM2.5 count shot up suddenly during the aforementioned months, and as such, it would be of greater importance for residents to take greater care during these time periods, particularly if they belong to vulnerable demographics.
The use of air quality maps via the IQAir website or AirVisual app can be a great aid in determining whether or not the air quality is of an appreciable level at any given day or time, with appropriate measures such as the wearing of particle filtering masks or avoiding outdoor activity being optimal.
As touched on briefly in the previous question, there are certain members of the population that are more at risk of pollution exposure, especially when such exposure is left unchecked over long periods of time, such as for those that live near busy roads or industrial areas. To go into further detail about the vulnerable groups, they would include among them young children and the elderly or infirm, as well as pregnant mothers. Babies are extremely vulnerable to PM2.5 exposure due to its ability to make its way into the mother’s bloodstream and thus have highly detrimental effects on the child, with miscarriage, premature birth or even low birth weight all being possible, along with physical or mental defects.
Others include those with compromised immune systems, or pre-existing health conditions, particularly ones that affect the lungs or heart. Of note is that even healthy young adults can be greatly harmed if enough pollutants are respired over a period of time, showing that even with vulnerable demographics, no one is truly safe from the dangerous effects of pollution.
Some of the main pollutants found in the air in Florida would be ones such as methane (CH4), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), as well as black carbon, finely ground silica particles and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some examples of VOCs include chemicals such as benzene, methylene chloride and formaldehyde, and besides being released from polluting sources such as cars or factories, can also be found emanating from household items such as scented candles, a variety of personal bathroom products, as well as any items that contain adhesives or varnishes.
One particularly prominent pollutant to mention is ozone (O3), which is formed from the various oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and other pollutants coming into contact with sunlight and being transformed into ozone, or smog as it is more well known as.