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DEP: Florida once again leads nation with cleanest air on record

Florida has met all ambient air quality standards and ranks atop the most populated states in the U.S. for clean air.

Long known as a global destination for tourism, Florida offers beautiful beaches, recreation, and plenty of sunshine.

Now the state boasts some of the cleanest air on record, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The department recently confirmed that for the second straight year, Florida has met all ambient air quality standards and ranks atop the most populated states in the U.S. for clean air.

“These efforts have not only resulted in Florida continuing to have the cleanest air on record but to remain the most populous state in the United States to meet these stringent federal standards,” said a spokesperson for the DEP.

The consecutive record for air quality recognizes that Florida meets all ambient air quality standards. A 2020 news release on the achievement bragged that the Sunshine State has the “cleanest air on record” and is “the most populous state in the United States to meet these stringent federal standards” for air quality.

The agency monitors air quality across a network comprised of 177 monitors on 90 sites throughout the state. According to DEP, its statewide air quality network, “is critical for assessing the state’s progress in maintaining and improving air quality, understanding temporal variations in air pollutants, and evaluating pollutant exposure by individuals and the environment.”

Preceding the latest good news on air quality, DEP announced plans to continue updating the state’s air quality monitoring network with new equipment, according to its 2021 draft Annual Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan that was released in May.

Among the South Florida stations set to receive new equipment are Delray Beach, Belle Glade and Homestead.

According to the plan, the state plans to replace the air quality monitor in Belle Glade with a new monitor that will reinstate the Belle Glade station as an official regulatory monitor. Since 2013, that monitor has been measuring PM2.5 and reporting as an Air Quality Index (AQI) network station through an approved waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency. The draft plan also notes “Palm Beach County is expected to replace the Met One BAM 1020 [in Belle Glade] by June 2021 with an approved FEM monitor, the Teledyne T640.” The DEP plan stands by the existing Belle Glade monitor along with all of the monitors in the network, stating “This network is sufficient to protect the health and welfare of Florida’s residents and environment.”

Additionally, the DEP plan states the stated goal of the PM2.5 monitors are to provide “information on how fine particles are transported to and within the state, to identify the parts of the state with the highest concentrations of fine particles, and to determine where fine particle concentrations do and do not exceed the NAAQS.”

The department notes that one of the largest contributors to PM 2.5 particle emissions, a common type of particle emissions in Florida, is vehicular traffic.

“Fine particles (PM2.5) can result directly from emissions of fuel combustion from motor vehicles, power generation and industrial facilities as well as from residential fireplaces and wood stoves,” according to a DEP report on Florida’s air quality.

A key part of Florida’s air quality success has been proper management of state and private lands, which in turn helps prevent wildfires, said former Florida Forest Service Director Jim Karels. Karels points to Florida’s better than average air quality and overall lack of wildfires as evidence the program works well.

“Florida’s foresters, farmers, ranchers, and large landowners have worked hard over the past few decades to make our program a national model other states have sought to replicate,” said Karels, who retired from the Florida Forest Service in 2020. “Florida agriculture has been an integral partner in all of our state’s success.”

Before his retirement from the state of Florida, in 2019, Karels was inducted into the Florida Foresters Hall of Fame and awarded the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s Paul Gleason Lead by Example Lifetime Achievement Award. In bestowing the honor, the group noted Karels is “a national leader in both prescribed fire and wildfire management.”

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