“Blue-state refugees” may be creating an enclave of climate-science deniers in South Dakota. But they can’t escape the effects of the changes their wanting gas-guzzling are having on the planet. Climate change is making it harder to breathe, not just because of their beloved carbon dioxide but also because of increased wildfire smoke choking up East River:
“Some of the communities that have historically had the cleanest air in the country are increasingly seeing more pollution coming in, and we see a lot of that coming in the form of particle pollution impacts from wildfires,” said Will Barrett, the American Lung Association’s national senior director of advocacy for clean air. “So as our climate is changing, it’s making it harder to keep the air clean.”
…East River residents haven’t had to tolerate as much wildfire smoke, thanks to factors such as a wetter climate and a greater distance from Western fires. Until recently, some East River cities had never experienced a day with an unhealthy Air Quality Index, or AQI, in data stretching as far back as 1985.
AQI values start at a healthy zero and become unhealthy for sensitive groups at 100, unhealthy for everyone at 150, very unhealthy at 200, and hazardous at 300. The worst AQI value is 500.
Until four years ago, the highest AQI ever recorded in eastern South Dakota was 170. Since then, every East River city with data available from the EPA has surpassed that mark.
Aberdeen hit a state-record AQI of 429 in 2018. Other East River cities logged their worst-ever AQIs last year: 212 in Brookings, 244 in Pierre, 182 in Sioux Falls and 247 in Watertown [Seth Tupper, “Climate Change Is Pushing Wildfire Smoke Farther East in South Dakota,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.01.03].
The American Lung Association still ranks Sioux Falls #8 and the Rapid City–Spearfish micro-megalopolis #22 on its list of U.S. cities with the least year-round particle pollution. U.S. News and World Report says South Dakota has the third-lowest levels of airborne industrial toxins and seventh-lowest air pollution health risk.