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Central Georgia had some of the worst air quality in the nation last week. Here's why

According to AirNow.gov, much of the area had an 'unhealthy' air quality, which they say could lead to respiratory side effects.

MACON, Ga. — Where do you think some of the worst air quality in the nation was last week? Would it surprise you to know it was in Central Georgia?

According to AirNow.gov, cities like Macon, Warner Robins and Forsyth had some of the unhealthiest air around. An interactive map on their site shows each city highlighted in red Tuesday, July 18. That means the Air Quality Index was between 151 and 200: the 'Unhealthy' range.

In this range, everyone may experience health effects, and people who are sensitive to air pollution may have more serious side effects.

There's a group in Central Georgia working to make sure things like this are a one-off.

"The Middle Georgia Clean Air Coalition formed as a partnership between the elected officials of the cities and counties in middle Georgia, really around that idea of, 'How do we protect our economic interests?'" Greg Boike, director of planning and public administration with the Middle Georgia Regional Commission said.

Boike also serves as the project manager for the Clean Air Coalition. 

He says when the group got started in 2003, the air in much of Central Georgia wasn't up to government standards, mainly around industrial areas like Plant Scherer. 

Now, he says the air is much better, and they can focus on other ways to improve quality. One of their new initiatives is encouraging people to drive electric cars.

"Today, that looks forward now to some of the scattered non-point sources of pollution, such as the hundreds of thousands of tailpipes that go through middle Georgia on a daily basis," he said.

Last Tuesday's poor air quality was largely due to wildfires up north. Luckily, according to AirNow.gov, the smoke moved out pretty quickly. Boike says the air in Central Georgia has improved a lot since 2003.

"Numerically, we have evidence from the science that shows the air quality in middle Georgia is getting better," he said.

Boike says the coalition's main goal is reducing the amount of ozone in the Central Georgia area, but they also focus on other types of air pollution.

The CDC says breathing in smoke from wildfires can affect people very quickly. It can give you symptoms like stinging eyes, coughing and a scratchy throat. Some may also have trouble breathing. They say people with COPD, asthma or heart disease are especially at risk.

You can check the air quality in your area at any time at AirNow.gov.

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