Facing the Facts about Atlanta’s Air Quality

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Facing the facts about Atlanta's air quality



A growing body of evidence links air pollution to serious health impacts, including heart disease, heart attacks and increased risk of death from lung cancer.

  • For the last 15 years, Atlanta has averaged 40 ‘code orange’ days every summer, when health officials warn that “children, people who are sensitive to ozone, and people with heart or lung disease should limit prolonged outdoor exertion during the afternoon or early evening when ozone levels are highest” (Georgia Environmental Protection Division).
  • On bad air days, when ground-level ozone levels are high, there is a 35% increase in emergency room visits for respiratory-related illnesses, mainly among children and the elderly (Centers for Disease Control).
  • 11% of Georgia’s children have asthma – almost double the national average (American Lung Association of Georgia).
  • The metro Atlanta area fails to meet national health standards for both soot and smog, and likely won’t meet these standards for at least 10 years (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).


In Atlanta, the biggest source of the chemical that causes ozone pollution – nitrogen oxides – is tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks. Atlanta ranks #2 for the most air pollution from vehicles (Georgia Department of Natural Resources; U.S. Public Interest Research Group).

  • Atlantans drive a total of more than 100 million miles per day — the equivalent of 16,666 round trips across the U.S. (Atlanta Regional Commission; Federal Highway Administration).
  • Atlanta rose from 16th to 5th worst among U.S. cities with the longest daily drive times. Commuters can expect to lose 60 hours a year due to traffic congestion and delays (Texas Transportation Institute).
  • Each person drives an average of 34.2 miles daily, the fourth highest daily driving distance in the country (Atlanta Regional Commission; Federal Highway Administration).
  • During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, when fewer people in the region drove cars and more used transit, emergency room visits by children for asthma dropped by as much as 45% (Journal of the American Medical Association).
  • The biggest time saver in congested cities like Atlanta is public transit, shaving 32% off the time people spend in traffic (Texas Transportation Institute).


The growing number of vehicles on the road and distances traveled are in direct correlation to the outward, sprawling development patterns in metro Atlanta over the past three decades.

  • The urban footprint of Atlanta almost doubled between 1990 to 1997, expanding from 65 miles north-to-south to 110 miles. It has been called the fastest-sprawling city in history (Atlanta Journal Constitution; Christopher B. Leinberger, real estate development consultant).
  • Sprawl has out-paced population growth for years. Between 1982 and 1997, development consumed land at a rate 1.3 times faster than population growth (Who Sprawls Most? Fulton, et al., Brookings, 2001).
  • By 2030, Atlanta’s population will increase by 40%, adding 2.3 million people. This is like the entire population of Denver moving to Atlanta over the next 25 years (Atlanta Regional Commission).
  • Although Atlanta is expected to spend over $50 billion in the next 25 years on transportation projects, traffic congestion is still predicted to worsen (Atlanta Regional Commission).