April 25, 2013
Air Quality Is Getting Better, But There’s Still Much Work To Be Done
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
According the American Lung Association´s newly released State of the Air 2013 report, many people across the US are breathing higher quality air than in previous years. However, the number of people living in counties with an unhealthy level of air pollution has increased, the report said.
"The long-term trend is positive and headed to much cleaner air," report author Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of national policy and advocacy for the American Lung Association, told HealthDay. "[However], there is an uptick in some areas that are a concern and some areas where the problem remains very, very serious."
The clean air study, which was performed between 2009 and 2011, examined the levels of ozone and soot particles in the air above almost 1,000 cities and counties in the United States. The researchers found that half of America´s most polluted cities showed air quality improvement, to the cleanest levels in over a decade. The other half these cities showed a decline in air quality.
The survey revealed that 254 counties had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. The 132 million people who live in these areas was slightly higher than 127 million people who resided in areas with poor air quality in last year´s report.
California cities Bakersfield and Los Angeles had the highest levels of particulate and ozone pollution respectively. The worst-cities list also includes Houston, Cincinnati and New York City.
Nolen said geography and topography are major factors in determining air quality of a certain region. Ozone, or smog, forms when emissions generated by burning fossil fuels react with sunlight. In valley areas like Los Angeles, these gases get trapped. In elevated areas or on plains, bad air is more easily dispersed.
She added that "a lot of transportation-related sources -- cars and trucks and shipping ports -- contribute to [the ozone] problem in the California area, and a lot of the most polluted cities in the eastern part of the country have coal-fired power plants.”
Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of California, Davis, said she was not particularly surprised by the study´s findings.
"Being from California, I knew we had a few pretty bad areas, but this report really drives it home," Hertz-Picciotto told HealthDay.
Both types of pollution have been shown to negatively affect respiratory health, but research has suggested that they can damage the body in other ways or lead to unhealthy birth weights and a greater risk of infant mortality.
"People thought problems were limited to the lungs, but over the past 15 years quite a bit of work has shown things like cardiovascular effects," Hertz-Picciotto said.
She added that air pollution has the biggest impact on vulnerable groups of people, including young children, older adults and sick individuals.
In March, the EPA proposed new federal rules that would require less sulfur in gasoline and stricter vehicle emissions standards. Similar regulation went into effect last year in California.
"We are encouraging people to support the EPA rule," she noted.