Thanksgiving Pollution Review: It Ain’t Pretty, Folks

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is one of the biggest travel days of the year. So, we asked, could all of those cars on the road actually change air pollution levels for millions of Americans? We ran this analysis with the Share My Air real-time pollution map at We also did a previous analysis of the pollution wave crossing the country in August due to the wildfires on the West Coast

In order to investigate, we looked at 5 cities on the Boston-Washington corridor (Boston, Providence, NYC, Philadelphia, Washington DC). This is where hundreds of thousands of drivers are on the road at a holiday time since all of the cities are within a reasonable driving distance for millions of residents. Then, we looked at 2 urban and 2 suburban air quality monitors at random in each metropolitan area, for a total of 20 monitors. In order to examine the impact of Thanksgiving travel, we looked at the entire holiday week (11/22-11/28), and noted the day with the highest particulate matter 2.5 levels.

And the results were… not great news for human health. Out of the 20 monitors sampled, 80% (16) experienced the most pollution on November 25, the day before Thanksgiving. This day was, on average, 5 ug/m3 higher than the weekly average. In other words, every man, woman and child within the Boston-Washington corridor was exposed to the equivalent of an extra 13 minutes in a sealed car with a smoker on that day (based on this sample).

So what can people do in the future to prevent this? The price of seeing your family for the holiday should not be an extra dose of pollution in 21st-century America. In this case, pollution is caused by personal vehicles, so families will have a lot of control over creating a healthier holiday next year. Two great solutions for this situation are public transit (train or bus) and electric vehicles. Both would allow families to promote clean air with their holiday travels.

Want to review the data yourself? Check out the Share My Air tool at

–The Vivergy Team


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