The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2012 report finds that in America’s most polluted cities, including Louisville, KY, air quality was at its cleanest since the organization’s annual report began 13 years ago.
Jefferson County received mixed grades obtaining an F for ozone (smog) and a D for particle pollution (soot). While Jefferson County rose from 10th to 9th most polluted city in the nation in particle pollution, it actually had its best ever record. The ranking change was a result of improvements in particle pollution in other cities lowering their placement on the list. Meantime, Fayette County received a B rating for air quality, while Jessamine County received an A rating. For more information, visit www.stateoftheair.org.
“State of the Air shows that we’re making steady progress in cutting dangerous pollution from the air as a result of cleanup efforts required under the Clean Air Act,” said Leslie Newman, Attorney and Volunteer Board member of the American Lung Association of the Midland States. “But millions of Americans across the country, including Kentucky’s residents, are still forced to breathe unhealthy levels of air pollution as a result of air quality standards that are outdated.”
This year’s report details the trend that standards set under the Clean Air Act to cleanup major air pollution sources—including coal-fired power plants, diesel engines, and SUVs—are working to drastically cut ozone and particle pollution from the air. Despite the improvements, the job of cleaning the air is not finished. More than 40 percent of people in the United States live in areas where air pollution continues to threaten their health. That means more than 127 million people are 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.
Jefferson County received a D for short-term particle pollution and passed for year-round particle pollution levels, even though it was ranked 23rd in the nation for its year-round particle pollution levels. The other counties in Kentucky where data are collected all received As and Bs. Many cities and counties in Kentucky had no unhealthy levels of particle pollution. Particle pollution levels can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end (short-term) or remain at unhealthy levels on average every day (year-round).
“Particle pollution can be deadly,” said Terri Schlader, Respiratory Therapist and American Lung Association Volunteer. “When you breathe particle pollution, you are inhaling a toxic mix of chemicals, metals, aerosols, ash, and diesel exhaust. It can cause asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, emergency room visits and even premature death. There is absolutely no question regarding the need to protect public health from particle pollution.”
State of the Air 2012 finds that smog levels in Jefferson County result in an F grade. Jefferson County is ranked 27th for most polluted regions for ozone. Ozone (smog) is the most widespread air pollutant, created by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other sources. When ozone is inhaled, it irritates the lungs, like a bad sunburn. It can cause immediate health problems and continue days later. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death.
Although air quality improvements clearly result from standards put into place under the Clean Air Act, big polluters and some members of Congress continue to propose to dismantle the law. Recent proposals in the Congress have included delaying implementation and blocking enforcement of parts of the law, and limiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to consider all of the scientific evidence regarding the harm to public health. These challenges come despite EPA’s estimate that cutting air pollution through the Clean Air Act will prevent at least 230,000 deaths and save $2 trillion annually by 2020.
“Dangerous and potentially deadly levels of smog and particle pollution continue to affect public health,” said Newman. “Cleanups have resulted in healthier air to breathe in other parts of the country, but people in Kentucky and more than 40 percent of our nation is still breathing dangerously polluted air. We must continue to fight for clean air and demand the full implementation of the Clean Air Act.”
The American people support the need for stricter limits on air pollution standards and the authority of the EPA to enforce these standards. A recent bipartisan survey found that about two-thirds of voters (66 percent) favor the EPA updating air pollution standards by setting stricter limits. Nearly three quarters (73 percent) of voters believe the nation does not have to choose between air quality and a strong economy.
State of the Air 2012 grades cities and counties based, in part, on the color-coded Air Quality Index developed by the EPA to alert the public to daily unhealthy air conditions. The 13th annual report uses the most recent, quality-controlled EPA data collected from 2008 through 2010 from official monitors for ozone and particle pollution, the two most widespread types of air pollution. Counties are graded for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels. The report also uses EPA’s calculations for year-round particle levels.
The American Lung Association in Kentucky urges the public to join the fight for clean air and to learn how to protect themselves and their families from air pollution by visiting www.stateoftheair.org.