May 1, 2007 For the first time since the American Lung Association began issuing its annual air quality report card, data reveal a split picture along either side of the Mississippi River, as particle pollution (soot)—the most dangerous pollutant—increased in the East but decreased in the West, while ozone (smog) decreased nationwide from peaks reported in 2002. The number of counties scoring an A grade for ozone levels increased from 82 in 2000 to 145 this year, but particle pollution levels show an ominous trend, with F grades nearly doubling in just one year, according to American Lung Association State of the Air: 2007.
“The increased particle pollution in the East is a particularly troubling trend, because exposure to particle pollution can not only take years off your life, it can threaten your life immediately,” said Terri E. Weaver, PhD, RN, American Lung Association Chair. “Even in many areas EPA currently considers safe, the science clearly shows that the air is too often dangerous to breathe, particularly for those with lung disease. Protecting Americans from potentially deadly air pollution means we need more protective federal standards, so that every community in the United States can have truly clean air.”
Higher soot levels in the East are linked to an increase in electricity generated by heavy polluting power plants. In the West, by contrast, soot levels continue to drop even in areas that rank historically high in particle pollution. California showed the most improvement with 32 counties dropping their year-round particle pollution levels.
Ozone pollution dropped thanks to a late 1990s requirement to clean up emissions of the raw ingredients of smog, as well as cooler summers in 2003 and 2004. Reductions in the nitrogen oxide emissions from coal-fired power plants that were in place by 2004 kept smog levels down, even when the heat returned in summer 2005 in much of the East. In the West, particularly in California, aggressive measures to reduce emissions from a wide range of air pollution sources (cars, trucks, and other mobile sources) contributed to fewer high ozone days.
“The good news is that there’s less ozone everywhere. Yet, we remain concerned because the science shows that millions are still at risk from ozone that exceeds acceptable levels,” Dr. Weaver said. “Breathing ozone smog threatens serious health risks, including new evidence that links it to premature death.” she said. “We’re calling on EPA to set new standards for ozone at levels that would protect public health as the Clean Air Act requires.”
The American Lung Association State of the Air: 2007 ranks cities and counties most polluted by ozone, 24-hour particle pollution, and annual particle pollution, and reports county-by-county populations at risk from unhealthful levels of the most dangerous forms of air pollution. Particle pollution is reported for both short-term (24-hour) periods and annual averages.
Ozone and Particle Pollution Snapshots
According to the report, 46 percent (136 million people) of the U.S. population lives in 251 counties where they are exposed to unhealthful levels of air pollution in the form of either ozone or short-term or year-round levels of particles. About 38.3 million Americans – nearly one in 8 people – live in 32 counties with unhealthful levels of all three: ozone and short-term and year-round particle pollution.
One-third of the U.S. population lives in areas with unhealthful levels of ozone, a significant reduction since the last report when nearly half did, yet 99 million Americans still live in counties with F grades for ozone.
Roughly one in three (more than 93.7 million) people in the United States lives in an area with unhealthful short-term levels of particle pollution, a significant increase since the last report, which is only partially due to the new, slightly lower threshold of unhealthful air recognized in this report (based on the newly adopted national standards). Nearly one in five (more than 54 million) people in the United States lives in an area with unhealthful year-round levels of particle pollution.
Los Angeles ranked as the most polluted city in the nation for all categories in the report, even though LA’s pollution levels have dropped. Other cities ranking among the worst for ozone include several in southern California, as well as large cities in Texas and on the east coast, including Houston, Dallas, New York, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia. Other cities on the lists of the worst for particle pollution include many in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states, including Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, DC-Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York.
With ozone pollution dropping in the eastern US, several cities returned to the list of most polluted cities despite improved ozone levels, including Atlanta, Phoenix, and Baton Rouge. They reappeared because of greater improvements by other cities. Some cities moved up to the worst cities for ozone list for the first time, including Las Vegas, Milwaukee and Kansas City.
“The American Lung Association is fighting for tougher federal standards because they protect Americans from dangerous levels of air pollution,” Dr. Weaver said. “Air pollution shortens lifespan, it lands our children and elderly in emergency rooms, and it can make children and teens more vulnerable to lung disease for the rest of their lives.”
To see how your community ranks in the American Lung Association State of the Air: 2007 report and learn how you can protect yourself and your family from air pollution, go to http://www.lungusa.org. While you’re there, you can send a message to the U.S. EPA to set more protective standards for ozone and other pollutants.
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