NPGA Bobtail

Propane Improves Air Quality

June 2023 will be remembered differently by different people. However, one thing most Americans will remember about the first month of summer this year was how bad the air quality was for large swaths of the country. Blue skies were replaced with a thick, orange haze that had an apocalyptical feel to it in many of our largest cities, including New York (George Washington Bridge seen above and on the left in NPGA staff photo from June 7) and Philadelphia. In fact, numerous air quality monitoring stations set new pollution records; the Northeast and Midwest were especially hard-hit. Professional sporting events were canceled, flights were grounded, and outdoor parks were void of children.

Wildfires in Canada were the principal cause of the pollution. These fires produced smoke that saturated U.S. cities with particular matter (PM), including PM2.5 and PM10. Particulate matter is a cocktail of solid particles and liquid droplets in our air. Sometimes we can see the particulates, as is the case with soot and smoke, and sometimes we can’t. Visible or not, when inhaled, this pollution can wreak havoc on our respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Americans with preexisting health conditions, the old, and the young are sadly at heightened risk from exposure.

Unfortunately, even when the boreal forest is not burning, high levels of PM still plague communities from coast-to-coast, degrading air quality and, in some cases, making it difficult for people to work and play outdoors. Luckily, there is an easy and cost-effective way to reduce particulate pollution: propane. Propane burns cleanly, efficiently, and produces no ash. These qualities are just some of the many reasons it is a federally-designated clean, alternative energy source.

Notably, propane has been improving air quality and reducing PM emissions for more than a century by displacing pollution from other energy sources, such as diesel, coal, wood, and charcoal that are used to heat homes, power vehicles, and cook food. Across the United States, for example, more than 7.5 million households still burn fuel oil, wood, or coal as their primary heating fuel. During combustion, these fuels produce very high levels of particulate matter. This is the reason local governments ask citizens not to burn wood when air quality is poor, as doing so will only exacerbate the problem.

On the roadways, diesel engines have long been the scorn of clean air advocates because of the large amounts of particulate pollution they release. Simply look at the cloud of black smoke that is emitted when a diesel truck accelerates on a highway and, unlike the surrounding air, their concerns become clear. Propane-powered fleets, such as school buses, however provide an affordable (they’re a third of the price of electric school buses), reliable, and black plume-free means of transporting people and products.

And of course, it’s summer and grilling season. But even this favorite pastime has an impact on air quality and our health. Burning charcoal to cook food on a grill, as we all can attest to in our neighborhoods, produces large amounts of soot and particular matter that diminishes air quality and often is quite obnoxious. Not only will charcoal grills emit much more PM than propane grills, but they also take longer to heat up and continue to burn even after people begin eating, which means this pollution is emitted for much longer durations too. In short, we all can do right by our families and neighbors this summer by ditching the charcoal grill.

It shouldn’t take orange skies to remind us that few things are as important as the air we breathe. And propane will continue to do its part to reduce emissions, improve air quality, and promote the public health and welfare in a cost-effective manner. Now that’s a reason we all should breathe deep. For questions, contact NPGA’s Director of State Affairs, Jacob Peterson.