How is the air quality in El Paso?

The below article talks about air pollution and air quality in El Paso, the factors that affect air quality in the area, along with some frequently asked questions about air pollution, and air quality levels in El Paso and the US. 

How is the air quality in El Paso?

The past and future air quality projections for El Paso shows that air quality is usually good and on rare occasions may move from being good to just moderate, depending on the increasing concentrations of particulate matter, specifically PM2.5. For a short period of time at the beginning of 2021, El Paso did have much poorer air quality that was classified to be unhealthy for certain groups, however, the city did bounce back to having safe levels of air quality and safe pollutant concentrations. 

About El Paso

El Paso is a city to the west of Texas in the US. It is situated at the Rio Grande and is bridged to Juárex, Mexico; which is south of the New Nexico Line. El Paso is one of the largest US cities that shares borders with Mexico, and is located at the foot of the Franklin Mountain. The city was colonized by multiple actors, and did not become a US territory until 1848, when an army post was built there. The town continued to grow steadily until 1881, when four new railways were introduced through the town, and by 1890 the population had increased ten times over than earlier counts. 

Today El Paso is a modern American city that is a commercial and financial hub for trading activities focusing on livestock ranching, cotton farming, and mineral production activities, which contribute to major sources of revenue for the city. The city houses a very diverse industrial base that has been founded on the wide availabilities of petroleum, metals, gas operations, food, apparel, etc. A major part of the nation’s copper is sourced from the city’s custom copper-lead smelter and electrolytic refineries. Over the years, various platforms have been introduced to encourage trade such as port of entry, transcontinental crossroads on several highways, etc. 

As of 2020, the population in the city has 865,657 citizens according to the US Census Bureau (USCB, 2021). In 2020, the highest outbound product from Texas was Fuel oils of value 345 Billion USD, followed by Electronics with a value of 338 Billion USD, Crude Petroleum valued at 285 Billion USD, and Gasoline valued at 280 Billion USD (Data USA, 2021). As we can see from the projected values of the above items that have been extracted from the city and sent to other parts of the world, it is obvious the toll that has been put on the environment to produce natural resources for the above values. Besides the toll on the natural resources, these extractive industries produce large amounts of emissions that is harmful for people, animals, and promotes global warming and subsequent climate change. 

El Paso, Air Pollution, and Air Quality

El Paso had faced poor air qualities at the beginning of 2021, when the air quality levels were classified as unhealthy for sensitive groups, with a US AQI of 113. It was advised for citizens to stay indoors and reduce prolonged outdoor exposure, and recorded pollutant concentration levels for PM2.5 was 45.9 μg/m3. In the previous year, the pollutant concentration for PM2.5 was 9.3 μg/m3 which was within the recommended guidelines provided by WHO. While this target was maintained for approximately 10 months in the year, it is observed that El Paso does go beyond these restrictions atleast two months every year such as January and May in 2020, and the beginning of 2021. Looking back at historical air quality records for El Paso, it is obvious that the city has made long strides to improve air quality as pollutant concentrations are now much lower in comparison to 11 μg/m3 in 2018 (IQAir, 2021). 

Looking at air quality data from other cities in the country, El Paso has considerably lesser air pollution as the city was ranked #4 amongst other clean mid-size metros and in the 19th place for clean air out of 300 cities in the US. Based on El Paso’s activities, most emissions come from mobile and other largescale area sources. Mobile sources such as cars, trucks, trains, etc. contributed to approximately 71% of the nitrogen oxide emissions and largescale area sources such as residential areas, industrial zones, etc. contributed to approximately 61% of volatile organic compounds emissions (IQAir, 2021). 

A report released in 2017 showed that El Paso industrial activities caused for emissions up to 23,288 pounds of emissions into the city’s atmosphere, without the proper authorisation from the city’s authorities. These emissions were attributed towards mainly 3 stakeholders: the Western Refining, Newman Power Station, and Captain Compressor Station. The first 2 stakeholders are based in the El Paso County, and the latter in Culberson. While obviously, these actions are completely illegal, unfortunately no action was taken against these stakeholders for the environmental damage they contributed to. Looking at unauthroised emissions in all of Texas, it was reported that a whopping 63 million pounds of toxic airborne pollutants were put into the city’s atmosphere in 2017, which was a 27% increase in comparison to unauthroised emissions from the previous year. There still isn’t much action taken against responsible stakeholders, and this is a concern for public and environmental health. 

Recent environmental disasters reported in El Paso shows us that air quality has been on the decline following the strong winds that has been brining in dust and volcanoes. It is also brought concern to various citizens that air pollution would increase with the building of large infrastructure projects such as the deck plaza, downtown. There have been several environmental concerns being brought up with such projects, however, state actors have still decided to move forward with the project in an effort to bring in more development into the county and thus increase engagement and revenue sources into the city (Naess M., 2021). The volcanic eruption in La Palma, in one of Spain’s Canary Isalnds also caused concerns for El Pasoans with concentrations of sulfur dioxide increasing rapidly due to the volcano. Following the eruption, various almost 33,000 citizens were requested to stay indoors to avoid chronic health impacts (Vega G., 2021). 

By the first week of December 2021, strong winds that blow in dust and other pollutants into the city had plunged the city’s air quality into orange levels, which meant that it was unhealthy for sensitive groups of people. State authorities had forecasted moderate air quality for the following week, and waved caution towards exposure to all citizens. An El Paso meterologist, Anthony Brown commented that the dust had been blown from the plains and was blown into the city (Pskowski M., 2021). 

While emissions from environmental sources cannot be controlled, the most obvious solution to emissions from anthropological activities would be to make the urgent shift from usage of fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy, increasing energy efficiency, optimization of activities, as well as avoiding avoidable infrastructure projects which would contribute towards increased pollutant concentrations. It is important to address that the city will need to move towards more sustainable sources of revenue, and changing their consumption factors will help the city to acclimatise towards these new changes. The continuation of the current activities at the current rate will cause devastating impacts om citizens, environment, and biodiversity health. 

Understand the AQI readings

Sourced from The Air Quality Index Scale as defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA):

AQIPollution LevelHealth ImplicationsCautionary Statement 
0 – 50GoodAir quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no riskNone
51 -100ModerateAir quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants, there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.Vulnerable and at-risk children and adults, people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.
101-150Unhealthy for Sensitive GroupsMembers of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected.Vulnerable and at-risk children and adults, and people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma, should avoid outdoor exertion.
151-200UnhealthyEveryone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effectsActive children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion
201-300Very UnhealthyHealth warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid all outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit outdoor exertion.
300+HazardousEmergency Health Alert: everyone has a higher vulnerability to experience more serious health effectsEveryone should avoid all outdoor exertion

There are varying AQI scales and interpretations globally, as different countries choose to interpret them differently in order to fit their needs. Any data observed from possibly biased sources need to be viewed in a careful manner as they could be inefficiencies or discrepancies in the data collected or analyzed. Various countries mold the scale to fit their needs so that they don’t come under the spotlight for being irresponsible towards their citizens. It is always crucial to therefore check private sources of air quality data, along with state governed sources; so as to ensure the efficiency and reliable interpretations of the readings you receive.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How is the air quality in El Paso?

Which cities in the US have the highest air pollution?

Source: IQAir. (2021, December 23)

1Calexico, California154
2Walnut, California146
3Medina, Ohio128
4Orrville, Ohio124
5Mendon, Utah123
6Chula Vista, California118
7Rosemead, California116
8Braddock, Pennsylvania114
9Broadview Heights, Ohio114
10Imperial Beach, California112

What are the cleanest spaces in El Paso?

Source: IQAir. (2021, December 23)

1Ascarate Park Southeast C3754
2Porfirio Diaz Street54
3East California Avenue39
45429 La Estancia Circle37
5El Paso Delta8
6Ivanhoe C4142
7Skyline Park C722
8Chamizal C411

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

What are some causes of air pollution?

What is point source air pollution?

What is the best solution to air pollution?


Britannica. (2021, December 02). El Paso. Texas, United States. Viewed on 12-23-2021. 

Data USA. (2021). El Paso, TX. Deloitte. Datawheel. Viewed on 12-23-2021. 

IQAir. (2021, December 23). Real-time El Paso Air Quality Ranking. Live El Paso AQI Ranking. Viewed on 12-23-2021. 

IQAir. (2021, December 23). Real-time USA City Ranking. Live AQI City Ranking. Viewed on 12-23-2021. 

Naess M. (2021, December 03). PDNHF risking more pollution in El Paso by pushing for deck plaza in Downtown: Opinion. El Paso Times. Viewed on 12-23-2021. 

United States Census Bureau (USCB). (2021). QuickFacts. El Paso Country, Texas. Viewed on 12-23-2021. 

Vega G. (2021, December 13). Lockdown lifted for 33,000 confined on La Palma due to bad air quality from volcano. El País. Viewed on 12-23-2021. 

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