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American Lung Association "State of the Air 2013" Report Finds Air Quality Improves Nationwide Despite More Spikes in Unhealthy Air Days

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Lung Association's "State of the Air 2013" report released today finds significant progress in the reduction of year-round particle pollution (soot) across the nation, but many cities that ranked among the most polluted had more unhealthy days of high ozone (smog) and short-term particle pollution than in the 2012 report.  Despite that uptick, "State of the Air 2013" shows that the air quality nationwide continues the long-term trend to much healthier air.

Key "State of the Air 2013" findings include:

  • More than 131.8 million people in the United States, which equates to 42 percent of the U.S. population, live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution.
  • Nearly 24.8 million people (8 percent) in the United States live in counties that have unhealthy levels of all three: ozone and short-term and year-round particle pollution. 
  • Eighteen cities had lower year-round levels of particle pollution, including 16 cities with their lowest levels recorded. 

"We are happy to report that the state of our air is much cleaner today than when we started the 'State of the Air' report 14 years ago," said Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association.  "Even in parts of the country that experienced increases in unhealthy days of high ozone and short-term particle pollution, they still have better air quality compared to a decade ago.  But the work is not done, and the Environmental Protection Agency must continue the work necessary to achieve the promise of the Clean Air Act; healthy air that is safe for all to breathe." 

More cities – four – made the list of the "cleanest cities" than in any previous "State of the Air" report: Bismarck, N.D.; Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.; Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Fla.; and Rapid City, S.D. To make this list, the cities had to have no days with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution and had to be among the 25 cities with the lowest year-round particle levels.

Some Progress in Reducing Particle Pollution

This year's report reveals that many places made strong progress, particularly in lower year-round levels of particle pollution, compared to last year's report.  Lower particle pollution levels are a direct result of emissions reductions from the transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines and coal-fired power plants, especially in the eastern United States. 

Although year-round average levels for particles are steadily dropping, the reverse is true for short-term spikes in days with high particle counts.  "State of the Air 2013" found that six cities had their worst year ever for short-term pollution spikes since the data started to be collected.  Periods of unhealthy particle levels often occur in the winter, as has recently been the case in Fairbanks, Alaska, and Salt Lake City.  In some cities, the particle pollution spikes come from increased burning of wood and other fuels for heat, often from highly polluting indoor wood stoves or outdoor wood boilers.

Room for Improvement for Ozone

Ozone is the most common air pollutant we breathe in this country, and it has proven to be one of the hardest to reduce.  Most cities with the worst ozone problems made progress with fewer high ozone days. Unfortunately, several places recorded more unhealthy ozone days on average than in 2008-2010.  Los Angeles reported its fewest unhealthy ozone days since the "State of the Air" reports began, but it remains the city with the worst ozone pollution problem.  The nation needs more aggressive safeguards to achieve continued reductions of ozone pollution.  Warmer weather during 2009-2011 may have contributed to the increase.

Protecting the Air We Breathe

Air pollution remains a pervasive public health threat in the United States.  To reduce the threat the Obama Administration must take some critically important actions in the next year, and Congress must support and not impede the scientists at the EPA as they establish standards to reduce tailpipe and smokestack pollution.  Safeguards are necessary to protect the health of nearly 132 million people living in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution that can cause wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death.  Those at greatest risk from air pollution include infants, children, older adults, anyone with lung diseases like asthma, people with heart disease or diabetes, people with low incomes and anyone who works or exercises outdoors.

Specific actions to be taken include:

  • Clean up gasoline and cars – Emissions from cars and light trucks are a major source of dangerous air pollution.  The EPA needs to issue the final Cleaner Gasoline and Vehicle Standards (Tier 3) before the end of 2013.  The proposed standards will help counties meet air quality standards by limiting ozone-forming and particle pollution from passenger vehicles by reducing the amount of sulfur in gasoline and set fleet-wide emission limits on new vehicles.  These standards will prevent more than 2,500 premature deaths and will remove the pollution equivalent of taking 33 million passenger vehicles off of our roads.
  • Fund the work to provide healthy air – The EPA along with state and local air pollution agencies are essential parts of the national infrastructure that cleans our air and protects the health of our communities.  But ever-tightening budgets jeopardize their work.  Increased funding will enable them to effectively monitor air quality, implement critical air quality programs to protect public health and meet national clean air goals.
  • Clean up coal-fired power plants – Coal-fired power plants are a major source of hazardous pollutants and the single largest producer of greenhouse gasses.  Many of these pollutants, such as mercury, benzene, dioxins, arsenic and lead, can cause cancer and cardiovascular disease; harm the kidneys, lungs and nervous system; and even kill.  By the end of 2013, the EPA needs to complete the process of setting power plant carbon pollution standards for new power plants, and it needs to propose standards for existing plants.
  • Strengthen the outdated ozone standards – Ozone (smog) is one of the most dangerous and widespread pollutants in the nation.  In 2011, the Obama administration failed to update ozone pollution limits, violating the Clean Air Act by not setting a standard that adequately protects public health.  Strengthening these standards to levels that the law requires will help prevent thousands of premature deaths in the United States each year.

"We have seen time and again that the Clean Air Act delivers tremendous health benefits," said Wimmer.  "Congress must ensure that the provisions under the Clean Air Act are protected and are fully enforced.  EPA and the states must have adequate funding to monitor and protect the nation from air pollution."

The American Lung Association's "State of the Air 2013" report is an annual, national air quality "report card." The 2013 report—the 14th annual release—uses the most recent quality assured air pollution data, compiled by the EPA, in 2009, 2010, and 2011.  These data come from the official monitors for the two most widespread types of pollution, ozone (smog) and particle pollution (PM 2.5, also known as soot).  The report grades counties and ranks cities and counties based on their scores for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels.

To see how your community ranks in "State of the Air 2013," to learn how to protect yourself and your family from air pollution, and to join the fight for healthy air, visit www.stateoftheair.org.

Nation's Most Polluted Cities
Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Short-term Particle Pollution (24-hour PM2.5)
Metropolitan Statistical Areas
1. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.
2. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
3. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
4. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
5. Modesto, Calif.
6. Salt Lake City-Ogden-Clearfield, Utah
7. Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa.
8. Merced, Calif.
9. Fairbanks, Alaska
10. Logan, Utah-Idaho

Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Year-Round Particle Pollution (Annual PM2.5)
Metropolitan Statistical Areas
1. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.
1. Merced, Calif.
3. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
4. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
4. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
6. Modesto, Calif.
7. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
8. Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa.
9. El Centro, Calif.
10. Cincinnati-Middletown-Wilmington, Ohio-Ky.-Ind.

Top 10 Most Ozone-Polluted Cities
Metropolitan Statistical Areas
1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
2. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
3. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.
4. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
5. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
6. Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Yuba City, Calif.-Nev.
7. Houston-Baytown-Huntsville, Texas
8. Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas
9. Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia, District of Columbia-Md.-Va.-W.Va.
10. El Centro, Calif.

About the American Lung Association
Now in its second century, the American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease. With your generous support, the American Lung Association is "Fighting for Air" through research, education and advocacy. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1 800 LUNG USA (1 800 586 4872) or visit www.lung.org.

SOURCE American Lung Association

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