Air Pollution

Air pollution is a serious problem in northeast Wisconsin. Our region suffers from a multitude of air emissions sources, some locally produced and others that flow from southeast Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

Car Exhaust

The most significant air polluter is vehicle traffic. Cars and trucks release a wide variety of toxic gases and particulates, and because we have so many of them, their combined health effects are high. Our region is particularly impacted due to the large number of diesel trucks serving major manufacturers. Diesel engines create more pollution than gasoline engines and they've escaped many of the clean air regulations imposed on gasoline-powered cars. The vehicle pollution is compounded by the rapid urban growth and sprawl in northeast Wisconsin. More people are driving further.

Vehicle emissions include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), particulates and other combustion byproducts. Escaped gasoline vapors also contain a variety of petroleum pollutants.

Coal-fired power plants and large manufacturing businesses are two other major contributors to local air pollution. Coal burning is particularly dirty - releasing sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, PAHs, radioactivity, mercury, arsenic, particulates, and a host of other trace toxic substances. In 2012, Wisconsin utilities agreed to spend more than $1 billion to clean up aging coal-fired power plants under a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The industrial Fox River Valley (including the Green Bay area) is a significant regional air pollution source.

Why Does It Matter?

Pulliam Plant

Air pollution threatens public health and wildlife. For example: According to the Brown County Environmental Health Profile, March 2012, 10% of all cancers in Brown County are related to environmental factors. In addition, dust and particulate matter can cause or aggravate serious respiratory problems in the young, the elderly and sensitive individuals.

Brown County had about 25,000 hospitalizations in 2015.

According to the Public Health Profile for Brown County in 2015, 43 children ages 18 and younger were hospitalized with asthma.

There were also 92 hospital deaths in Brown County related to tracheal, bronchitis/respiratory problems.

From 2012-2014, Milwaukee County was rated #1 for asthma hospitalizations per 10,000 people, followed by Menominee County. Brown County is ranked 15th out of 72 counties, with 386 asthma hospitalizations and 3,007 asthma related ER visits. Northeast Wisconsin had the second-highest asthma rate for adults, with 9.1%. For children, northeast Wisconsin ranked fifth with 6.8% of children with asthma.

In 2016, the American Lung Association ranked Sheboygan, WI as the 22nd most ozone polluted city in the entire country. (See Ozone Pollution)

Between 2012-2014, Brown County ranked the worst in the state for the number of days with high particle pollution. In January 2003, we reported that Brown County ranked 3rd in the state for toxic pollution linked to respiratory problems in Wisconsin. From 1987 to 2000, more than 21 million pounds of respiratory toxins were released into Brown County's air and water according to a report released by the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG). This equals approximately 617 dump truck loads, and unfortunately we believe it is a gross underestimation of the true total releases.

Air pollution is also transferred to the land and water. Many types of water pollutants are contaminants now coming primarily from the air. Dust and particulates often carry other contaminants with them.

Our air problems could get worse before they get better. It is a travesty that citizen groups like CWAC must take polluters to court in order to protect our health and the environment. We pay taxes to support the WDNR, so they will protect us from pollution problems. Instead, the state legislation continues to cut WDNR funding while hundreds of air permit violations continue without penalty.


Who Are Your Local Air Polluters?

The EPA collects reports annually from companies throughout the U.S. on their air emissions. The chemicals included in this report include ammonia, hydrochloric acid, manganese compounds, methanol and sulfuric acid. The Top 10 polluters in northeast Wisconsin for 2015 for greenhouse gas emissions were:

Company City Total GHG Emissions
(Metric Tons CO2e)
Weston Kronenwetter 3,945,095
Edgewater Generating Stations Sheboygan 1,533,747
Fox Energy Center Kaukauna 1,477,488
Georgia Pacific Consumer Operations LLC Green Bay 381,818
Thilmany Mill Kaukauna 353,726
Graymont Western Lime Eden 310,710
Midwest Recycled and Coated Containerboard, LLC Combined Locks 275,849
Waupaca Foundry, INC-Plants 2 & 3 Waupaca 207,475
Sheboygan Falls Energy Facility Plymouth 203,258
Neenah Energy Facility Neenah 181,355
Carmeuse Lime & Stone Rockwell Corporation Manitowoc 178,853


The American Lung Association for resources and local “State of the Air” reports

The WDNR lists a daily air quality index for many counties in northeast

Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Burden of Asthma in Wisconsin

Environmental Protection Agency:

© Clean Water Action Council

P.O. Box 9144

Green Bay, WI 54308

(920) 421-8885

Office location:
A307 MAC Hall, UW-Green Bay
2420 Nicolet Drive
Green Bay, WI 54311