U.S. Air Quality Somewhat Better in 2006-2008, ALA Says

Are you breathing any easier now?

The American Lung Association (ALA) says probably not but maybe you will live a little longer.

In a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Dr. Norman H. Edelman, chief medical officer at ALA, said, "A nationwide study shows that life expectancy increased 5 months due to cleanup of the air." But on a more unpleasant note, Edelman said that both a Harvard University study and the California Air Resources Board recently tripled their estimates of deaths attributable to fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

According to ALA, about 24 million people live in 18 counties where the outdoor air failed all three pollution tests (ozone, short-term, and annual PM2.5). That number grows to 175 million for people exposed to unhealthy levels of either ozone or PM2.5. The organization’s State of the Air 2010 report (pdf) does say, however, that improvements are being made through emissions controls on coal-fired power plants and cleaner diesel fuels and engines, particularly in the East and Midwest.

If you’re ready to live in a community with healthier air, you might want to relocate to Fargo, N.D., or Lincoln, Neb., according to Janice Nolen, ALA vice president of National Policy and Advocacy.

Bad Air

The most polluted city for ozone is Los Angeles, Calif., but the metro area reported its second lowest ozone levels since 2000. The Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz., metropolitan area moved to the top of the list of cities most polluted by year-round PM2.5 levels. Nolen attributed this to the fact that the area only recently started gathering the data and it has a large agricultural (cattle) operation that contributes to the problem. Bakersfield, Calif., had the most days of unhealthy short-term PM2.5 pollution.

ALA compiled the most recent (2006-2008), quality-assured air monitoring data from local, state and federal agencies as it has since 2000. It measured ozone using the color-coded Air Quality Index. ALA used a more conservative PM2.5 standard (1 percent of the days to be more than 35 µg/m3) than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine nonattainment (2 percent of the days to be more than 35 µg/m3). The report looks at both short-term (spikes) and annual average PM2.5. All the pollution data was based on a weighted average for each county. Allen S. Lefohn, Ph.D., of A.S.L. & Associates, Helena, Mont., characterized the hourly average ozone concentration information and the 24-hour averaged PM2.5 concentration information under contract with ALA.

For the first time, the report includes population estimates for people living in poverty (as defined by the federal government) as a specific at-risk group.

Today, you can visit the State of the Air Website and key in your ZIP code to see how your area fared − if you live in a community that performs air monitoring. Only half of the counties in the nation have monitors, Nolen said. One North Texas county failed the ozone test with 41 orange and 2 red days but received no score for particle pollution because there is no monitor for that indicator. Just one county south, the report also gave a failing grade for ozone but passing grades for both short-term and annual PM2.5.

"The American Lung Association is calling for Congress to pass the Clean Air Act Amendments of 2010, which will cut emissions from coal-fired power plants that create particle pollution and ozone," said Charles D. Connor, ALA president and chief executive officer. "The Lung Association also calls on Congress to also ensure that only clean diesel equipment is used in federally funded construction projects and to provide funds for the cleanup of existing diesel engines. The EPA needs to finish measures to clean up power plants, strengthen national standards for outdoor air pollutants—especially ozone and particle pollution—and set tough new standards to require the cleanup of nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons and particle emissions from cars."

EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Weather Service urge Americans to "Be Air Aware" during Air Quality Awareness Week, May 3 - 7. To get a snapshot of air quality issues across the nation, visit Air Now.

Cleanest Cities by 24 Hour PM2.5 (in alpha order) Alexandria, La.

  • Amarillo, Texas
  • Athens-Clarke County, Ga.
  • Austin-Round Rock, Texas
  • Bangor, Maine
  • Billings, Mont.
  • Bloomington-Normal, Ill.
  • Brownsville-Harlingen-Raymondville, Texas
  • Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.
  • Champaign-Urbana, Ill.
  • Cheyenne, Wyo.
  • Claremont-Lebanon, N.H.-Vt.
  • Colorado Springs, Colo.
  • Corpus Christi-Kingsville, Texas
  • Fargo-Wahpeton, N.D.-Minn.
  • Farmington, N.M.
  • Fayetteville, N.C.
  • Fort Collins-Loveland, Colo.
  • Grand Junction, Colo.
  • Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula, Miss.
  • Hattiesburg, Miss.
  • Jackson-Yazoo City, Miss.
  • Lafayette-Acadiana, La.
  • Lincoln, Neb.
  • Longview-Marshall, Texas
  • McAllen-Edinburg-Pharr, Texas
  • Oklahoma City-Shawnee, Okla.
  • Pueblo, Colo.
  • Salinas, Calif.
  • San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, Calif.
  • Santa Fe-Espanola, N.M.
  • Sarasota-Bradenton-Punta Gorda, Fla.
  • Springfield, Ill.
  • Springfield, Mo.
  • St. Joseph, Mo.-Kan.
  • Syracuse-Auburn, N.Y.
  • Topeka, Kan.
  • Tucson, Ariz.

10 Cleanest Cities for Annual PM2.5 (in ranking order, duplicate position numbers indicate a tie)

  1. Cheyenne, Wyo.
  2. Santa Fe-Espanola, N.M.
  3. Honolulu, Hawaii
  4. Anchorage, Alaska
  5. Great Falls, Mont.
  6. Tucson, Ariz.
  7. Amarillo, Texas
  8. Albuquerque, N.M.
  9. Flagstaff, Ariz.
  10. Bismarck, N.D.

Cleanest Cities for Ozone Air Pollution

  • Bismarck, N.D.
  • Brownsville-Harlingen-Raymondville, Texas
  • Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
  • Duluth, Minn.-Wis.
  • Fargo-Wahpeton, N.D.-Minn.
  • Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, Ark.-Mo.
  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Laredo, Texas
  • Lincoln, Neb.
  • Port St. Lucie-Sebastian-Vero Beach, Fla.
  • Rochester, Minn.
  • Sioux Falls, S.D.

10 Most Polluted Cities by 24 Hour PM2.5

  1. Bakersfield, Calif.
  2. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
  3. Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa.
  4. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
  5. Birmingham-Hoover-Cullman, Ala.
  6. Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Yuba City, Calif-Nev.
  7. Salt Lake City-Ogden-Clearfield, Utah
  8. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
  9. Modesto, Calif.
  10. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.

10 Most Polluted Cities by Annual PM2.5 (in ranking order, duplicate position numbers indicate a tie)

  1. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz.
  2. Bakersfield, Calif.
  3. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
  4. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
  5. Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa.
  6. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
  7. Birmingham-Hoover-Cullman, Ala.
  8. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
  9. Cincinnati-Middletown-Wilmington, Ohio-Ky.-Ind.
  10. St. Louis-St. Charles-Farmington, Mo.-Ill.

10 Most Polluted Cities by Ozone (in ranking order)

  1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
  2. Bakersfield, Calif.
  3. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
  4. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
  5. Sacramento--Arden-Arcade--Yuba City, Calif-Nev.
  6. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
  7. Houston-Baytown-Huntsville, Texas
  8. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif.
  9. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, Calif.
  10. Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury, N.C.-S.C.
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