NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Middle Tennessee is blessed with a rich and diverse natural environment. However, there are environmental threats we have to deal with as well, including air pollution.

News 2 wanted to know, how safe is the air in Middle Tennessee?

Dr. Michelle Oakes at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said ozone and particulate matter are the pollutants to watch for in Middle Tennessee.

Ozone levels may rise in urban areas when hot temperatures move in. Dr. Oakes said air quality alerts are there to alert vulnerable residents. “These air quality alerts are color coded. And when you reach a certain level that could potentially affect air quality or the health of folks, it’s presented and presented in a manner where people know the air quality is poor.”

While ozone levels can be a problem on occasion, overall, Middle Tennessee has healthy air.

“We’re achieving all the standards for the ozone and PM2.5 national ambient air quality standards. So, that’s a very good indication of things are clean, and we’re able to maintain clean and healthy air,” said Dr. Oakes.

The state of Tennessee and its partners have been working to improve air quality over the previous decade.

Dr. Oakes said, “We made a lot of progress by working with our industries to put the correct and appropriate emission controls in place to ensure that we meet the air quality standards, but there are, you know, concerns that are kind of out on the horizon.”

One of those concerns is the rapid population growth the area is undergoing. More people moving here means more cars on the road. 

“Over the decade in Tennessee, we’ve seen tremendous growth. We’ve seen, I believe, an 8% increase in population. And with that comes close to a 20% increase in vehicle miles traveled in the state of Tennessee.”

Wildfires are also a threat to our air quality. Fires states away can lead to poor air quality conditions right here in Middle Tennessee.

“This has been particularly more pronounced in what the Western U.S., but we also have a lot of activity in the Southeastern U.S. through prescribed burns, through agricultural to promote agricultural activities.”

To combat some of these issues, Tennessee is partnering with fire management to do prescribed burns on days when it will be less likely to impact air quality.