Why Air Quality in Omaha is Suffering & What Citizens Can Do
"You can't make up for the 69 years of what everybody's been breathing in all along.” - David Corbin, Nebraska Sierra Club.
For almost 7 decades, the air quality in Omaha has reached toxic levels due to the coal-fired power plant. Because of this, many citizens are at an increased risk of contracting pulmonary disorders, heart diseases, and other illnesses linked to air pollution.
While they can’t reverse the actions of the past, they still have the power to shape the present. And with today’s advancements in air quality technology, they're more equipped to improve Omaha’s air quality.
Today, we’re exploring how the community of Omaha uses PurpleAir air quality monitors to solve its current air quality crisis.
Why Is the Air Quality in Omaha Suffering?
Located in Omaha, the North Omaha Power Plant has been supplying electricity to its residents since 1954. However, it’s also one of the most significant sources of air pollution in Nebraska. In 2014, the City of Omaha declared that it was the largest source of nitric oxide emissions in the entire state.
And that’s not all that the power plant is emitting.
There are at least 80 hazardous air pollutants coming from coal-fired power plants. These include arsenic, formaldehyde, and particulate matter. All of these are so toxic to human health that people who live nearby have a higher chance of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, and even face premature death.
In fact, a Yale study found that areas with large coal-fired power plants have a 2% higher infant mortality rate than those without. It also noted that the rate increases as coal consumption increases.
What the Government's Doing About Omaha Air Quality
Due to the impact of the power plant on the community, the government closed 3 of the 5 coal burning stations in 2016. It had originally planned to shut down the last ones by 2023. But because of the global pandemic and other issues, it’s now scheduled for the end of 2026.
In the meantime, the local government of Omaha has required the Omaha Public Power District to monitor its carbon emissions. As well as operating within the regulations of the Clean Air Act.
Yet, these requirements aren’t enough to keep the air quality in Omaha clean.
Omaha still ranks as the primary source of ozone and fine particulate matter in Nebraska. In 2022, the American Lung Association also ranked Omaha as the 91st worst level of ozone among metropolitan areas and the 98th worst annual particle matter levels.
What Are Citizens Doing About the Air Quality in Omaha?
Despite these countermeasures, the citizens of Omaha continue to face air pollution from the North Omaha Power Plant. So much so that Toll for Coal reports a total of 189 asthma attacks, 17 deaths, and 875 workdays lost due to the air pollution from the power plant.
So, they decided to take matters into their own hands.
In partnership with the Sierra Club, Omaha citizens started investing in PurpleAir air quality monitors. They then placed these near the power plant to collect real-time air quality data on its emissions.
Thanks to this, they now have easier access to updated air quality information. This, in return, empowers them to take immediate action to protect their health. It also gives them more concrete evidence of how Omaha air pollution is affecting their communities.
As John Crabtree of Nebraska Beyond Coal Campaign aptly puts it, “[PurpleAir air quality monitors are] more engaging, and people in the community are more likely to see it, experience it, act on it, and use it to influence the decisions that they make and the decisions that are made at the other levels that affect their lives.”
We’re thrilled to see more communities using our real-time air quality data to inform themselves and others. Seeing this, we hope more communities will take action to encourage local governments to do more to protect their citizens.
Connect With PurpleAir
At PurpleAir, there are tons of organizations and researchers around the world using our data—from Google to the EPA. We’re thrilled to see research like this being used to help local neighborhoods, and we look forward to seeing plenty more in the future.
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