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Climate Change Brings Lower Air Quality to East River; SD Still Relatively Low on Air Pollution

“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.


  1. larry kurtz 2023-01-05 07:47

    Every watershed on the Black Hills National Forest is at grave risk. Preserve the mature, old growth and legacy pine by saving them from the Neimans, clear cut without building new roads especially where doghair guzzles water supplies, chokes aspen, birch or hazelnut and burn, baby, burn.

  2. All Mammal 2023-01-05 11:52

    I suspect the zebra mussel invasion of Pactola was a nasty little tactic to label the beautiful recreational area a dead zone in order to enable the Jenny Gulch exploratory gold drilling to reap without restrictions, witnesses, or life to work around.
    Drill? More like kill. Mine? More like theirs. EPA/Clean Water Act? More like bombs away/get them bodies stacked. Under God the people rule? More like ridden rough shod and used like a mule. Transparency? More like you can’t catch me. Mt. Rushmore state? More like displace you, rob you, spray paint your church and twerk on your buried and turn the land into a whore state. Talk about values. More like a make SD cheaper ruse. Time to pray… the dead to wake up and play with their head so they hear the voices inside and realize they’re not alone when they’re the last ones alive. That’ll make them run for their gun and get real skittish and thinking they see ghosts of the dead British from the war after the they started taking score and noticing they were going bankrupt so they took the hand of corrupt and married her with a ceremony presided by the devil who levels the earth on his zamboni. Skanks won’t be eating steak. Fool, stop using a knife and fork to eat your baloney. Swallow it down with Code Red Mt. Dew if you like what they feed you. If you ask the granite, you’d learn you don’t endow it. It owns you, just check the tongue of your shoe. Betcha it says what materials she gave to shod you.

  3. Donald Pay 2023-01-05 14:09

    South Dakota has clean air most of the time. Year round particulate matter has never been much of a problem, but there are problems with violations of PM standards in some places when wind is high or when fires are burning. Sometimes particulate matter will be high during plowing and harvesting time in rural areas, but these are fairly temporary and localized problems.

    I lived in Rapid and was a consistent critic of how the state and local governments were handling air quality. For years a part of Pennington County had several days where PM-10 standards were violated. Generally these were days when winds were gusting above 30 mph over the northwest part of the city where limestone quarries and the cement plant operated. I had a friend who had a severe lung condition. She had times when she coughed up a quarter of blood and mucus during these wind storms which caused violations of the PM-10 standard.

    The other problem in Rapid City is when there is an inversion, which happens a number of times every winter. An inversion traps air near the surface for 2-4 days, generally. As the inversion continues any pollution from traffic, wood-burning stoves or fireplaces, etc. gets trapped near the surface. This often causes air quality to deteriorate to such a degree that violations of standards may occur.

    The problem is that how the standards are applied have been significantly weakened over the last 30 years. Certain violations are excused because they are considered “weather” or “natural” events. So, what would have been a violation 35 years ago is now just loopholed. But people with lung conditions are still coughing up blood during these so-called non-violations.

    Now I will say Rapid City did take some effort to clean up certain areas of town to lessen particulates. They did, and I assume still do, declare air quality emergencies where burning is restricted.

  4. P. Aitch 2023-01-05 14:13

    My Littletown on the south border of Denver metroplex is at 47, currently. Wildfire smoke from California and Washington/Oregon wasn’t bad last summer. First summer out of four I can say that.

  5. All Mammal 2023-01-05 16:39

    The Beautification of Rapid City Project continues to ravenously cut down all enormous cottonwoods, attempting to eliminate all viable sources of shade for midday resters, aka Eliminate Rapid Creek Native project. It is so asinine to look across the street at where once stood the most beautiful sanctuary of neighborhood sentinels shading the bike path, where only a dusty, sinkhole-pocked field of noxious weeds takes it’s place now. The bank is eroding and has 6 foot deep voids where massive root systems held the bank together 5 years ago.

    It is called hostile landscaping. They topped it all off by planting the nappy, wretched Russian Olive tree with thorns and no shade. My old cottonwoods kept the air in the middle of town along the Rapid Creek bike path pure, except when it released wisps of cotton that stayed in suspended animation on muggy nights. Now it is loud, dead, sick, dirty and fugly.

  6. larry kurtz 2023-01-05 17:41

    Dead Canada geese are fouling Canyon Lake.

    Endangered pallid sturgeon, paddlefish, catfish and most other aquatic organisms cope with lethal levels of mercury throughout the South Dakota portion of the Missouri River so as those species are extirpated or even go extinct zebra mussels have colonized most of the system. Lewis and Clark Lake is at least thirty percent full of toxic sediment but that impoundment and Lake Sharpe can’t spend money fast enough to reverse the infestation of the imported bivalves in hydroelectric equipment and water courses. To prop up the pheasant industry the state’s Republican governor put bounties on raccoons and skunks also known to feed on the prolific invaders.

    Earth hating Republicans like John Thune have thrown up their hands and jumped on the socialist Lewis and Clark bandwagon to slake the thirst created by industrial agriculture.

    But hey, freedom means it’s just okay to poop in every South Dakota waterway because god says so.

  7. grudznick 2023-01-05 21:16

    It is good to see my close personal friend Lar come around to understand those behaviors he did back at the old Rocky Point joints were bad. They were very bad. There are literally pounds of bottle caps and broken glass at the edges of the lake from back when grudznick and Lar would hang out there.

    Now, we are both environmental stewards.

  8. grudznick 2023-01-05 22:22

    They say, those fellows from East of the River, they say that Mr. Carl Perry, he of the the up and coming power squad that is set to take over from Mr. Novstrup, the elder, as the power brokers from East of the River, yes, they say Mr. Perry has a plan.

    Mr. Perry will be the next Novstrup, when Mr. Novstrup the elder steps back.

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