Great news Hall County! Your air quality is consistently good. In general, Georgia’s air is cleaner now than it was in 1990. Since that time, Hall County’s population has more than doubled, which seems counterintuitive. How can there be more people, cars and homes, yet cleaner air? Well, it isn’t because there are more trees. On the contrary, there are considerably fewer. According to Global Forest Watch, Hall County lost approximately 1 million square feet of tree cover between 2001 and 2021.
There are two approaches to improving air quality: The first is to reduce the pollutants that are put into the air, and the second is to remove the pollutants after they get into the air. The first solution has had the greatest impact on our local air quality, thanks to the Clean Air Act. This act empowered the EPA to regulate the emissions of hazardous air pollutants.
If you’re curious about Gainesville’s official EPA air quality, you can see it for yourself at AirNow.gov. The air monitor, which is located at Fair Street, shows results for particulate pollution, globally the most deadly air pollution.
Air quality does vary according to time and place. The air along Thompson Bridge Road during rush hour is probably going to be more polluted than the air at Fair Street on an early Sunday morning.
The Redbud Project, a local, grassroots, conservation organization, has installed an air monitor at the McDonalds on Thompson Bridge Road next to the drive-thru that records levels of particulate pollution there. Data from this monitor can be accessed via the PurpleAir website.
When comparing the data from Fair Street to the data from the drive-thru, the readings at the drive-thru are consistently a bit higher than Fair Street. The fact that there is so little difference between the two locations could be due to the Redbud’s landscaping at McDonalds, which was designed with plants that are especially effective at trapping particle pollution. Research is demonstrating that some native plants, like moss, are more effective than some trees at trapping these particles.
Federal legislation passed in August now classifies greenhouse gases as pollutants that are to be regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act. This should help to reduce greenhouse gases. While most pollutants only stay in the air for a few hours to two months, CO2 can last for 200 years. Keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere is critical, but so is removing the excess that’s already there. Currently, no technology is equal to trees at accomplishing this task.
If we hope to make the necessary improvement in our air quality in the next 30 years equal to the past 30, we’re going to need to keep as many trees as we can. That’s a job that our local governments can help us with. Read our current tree ordinance to see if you think there is room for improvement, and then let your opinion be known.
Brian E Moss