2020 becomes another historic year for good air quality in Virginia

2020 has seen 34 more ‘good’ air quality days than 2017, the previous record

Photo Credit: Bruce Bailey - Claytor Lake (Copyright 2020 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.)

RICHMOND, Va. – We can take all the good news we can get. In this case, it was the air quality in Virginia that’s been good in a historic way. The Virginia Department of Air Quality says the forecasting season for ozone pollution came to an end earlier this week, and it did so with 34 more ‘good’ air quality days than the previous record year in 2017.

In fact, 96% of ozone pollution monitors across the state never reported unhealthy air quality this year. The Loudon County sensor did once but only on one day.

David Paylor, Director of the DEQ, says, "“For too many years, we experienced extreme air pollution but through the development of more stringent pollution regulations and controls, I’m happy to say that ozone pollution isn’t the threat it used to be.” Paylor considers this to be a success story in Virginia.

In addition to pollution regulations, the COVID-19 pandemic may have also contributed to this. Michael Dowd is the Air and Renewable Energy Division Director, and says, “The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many drivers staying off the road and that has had an effect on Virginia’s low ozone readings; however, the low levels of pollution we are seeing this year are certainly in line with the long-term trend of lower ozone concentrations.”

Ozone is comprised of three oxygen molecules. In the stratosphere, ozone is a good thing as it keeps Earth habitable. At ground level, though, an increased amount of it can lead to breathing and health problems.

Depending on how much ozone there is, the air quality forecast goes from Good to Hazardous.

Scale of air quality levels

Ozone levels typically increase on hot, sunny days. Main sources of the chemical compound, according to the Virginia DEQ, are “motor vehicle exhaust, power plants, industrial emissions and solvents.”

About the Author:

Meteorologist Chris Michaels is an American Meteorological Society (AMS) Certified Broadcaster, forecasting weather conditions in southwest Virginia on WSLS 10 News from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays on Virginia Today.