2008-05-30 / Community

Coughing? The air is still polluted

For the first time, a city outside of California tops one of the most polluted lists in the American Lung Association's State of the Air: 2008 report, released this month.

However, overall, California's cities and counties continue to dominate nationwide lists of places with the worst air pollution.

Pittsburgh has overtaken Los Angeles as the city most polluted by short-term particle pollution, or soot. Although Los Angeles stayed ranked atop the two other pollution lists, yearround particle pollution and ozone pollution, or smog, it saw ongoing improvements in air quality, cutting its year-round particle pollution by about a third since the 2004 report. Iimprovements were seen in ozone pollution levels, with the weighted average number of days each year with unhealthy levels of ozone dropping by 13 from the 2007 report.

Statewide, 26 of California's 52 counties with air quality monitoring stations- including Ventura- received failing grades for the number of days of high ozone or particle pollution. In alphabetical order, they are Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Merced, Nevada, Orange, Placer, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Stanislaus, Tehama and Tulare.

Nineteen counties received an A grade, either for high ozone or particle pollution days; some received an F in one category but an A in another. Recipients of A grades, in alphabetical order, are Calaveras, Colusa, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Plumas, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Siskiyou and Sonoma.

Of the nation's 25 counties most polluted by ozone, 12 are in California. Ten of the 25 counties most polluted by shortterm particle pollution are in this state, as are seven of the 25 counties most polluted by long-term particle pollution.

In addition, California includes 10 of the 25 most ozonepolluted cities, eight of the 25 cities most polluted by short-term particle pollution, and five of the 25 cities most polluted by yearround particle pollution.

"We see improvements in some areas of the state, but the levels of ozone and particle pollution in California remain dangerously high; improvements do not mean the problem is solved," said Gwendolyn W. Young, board chair of the American Lung Association of California.

"Both our California scores and the national trends tell us loud and clear that we have more work to do- including ensuring the protection of the Clean Air Act- to prevent our families and neighbors from breathing air that's simply hazardous to our health," Young said.

Unhealthful pollution levels of both ozone and particle pollution create serious, even lifethreatening risks for many people, including children, teens and seniors, and people with asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Ozone, commonly known as smog, is a powerful gas most often formed by sunlight's reaction to vapors when vehicles, factories, power plants and other sources burn fuel. Particle pollution is the deadly cocktail of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols that enter the air from the burning of fossil fuels, and from wood smoke and agricultural burning.

These types of pollution can cause health problems: asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing, chest pain, strokes, lung cancer and sometimes death.

Besides threatening health, ozone and particle pollution also contribute to global warming- with rising temperatures expected to increase pollution and related threats to lung health.

Air pollution solutions

State lung association board chair Young said that to ensure progress toward healthier air, Congress must keep the Clean Air Act intact- given proposed changes to diminish it- and California must also address diesel pollution.

On the diesel front, the association encourages state leaders to continue placing a high priority on reduction of dangerous diesel exhaust emissions from trucks and buses and by port operations.

The organization urges the California Air Resources Board to develop and adopt this year a strong on-road diesel truck and bus rule to dramatically reduce exposure to toxic diesel soot and improve public health.

Diesel trucks and buses are the largest source of diesel particulate pollution in the state, responsible for approximately 39 percent of diesel particulate pollution and 40 percent of nitrogen oxide pollution from diesel sources. A rule for onroad diesel trucks and buses alone could prevent thousands of premature deaths and illnesses.

Individuals can make their voices heard with elected officials on key air quality issues by joining the state association's California's Advocacy Network at www.californialung.org. Individuals also can make a difference by using the following tips to help fight air pollution and protect everyone's lungs:

•Switch to cleanerfueled vehicles, like natural gas and hybrid electric/gasoline.

•Use public transit, and bike, walk and/or carpool whenever possible.

•Maintain vehicles properly.

•Don't top off the tank when refueling, and fill up the gas tank after dark, when the sun won't turn the gasoline emissions into ozone.

•Use handpowered or electric lawn care equipment rather than gasoline-powered versions.

•Turn out the lights when they're not needed and use energyefficient appliances to reduce the need for electricity generation.

The association's current air report used the most current quality-assured air pollution data from 2004-06, collected by state air pollution control agencies and reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Due to the lead time required for its report, the American Lung Association used the EPA's 1997 standard for ozone levels rather than the new tighter standard announced on March 12 of this year.

To see the grades for air quality in specific communities and learn how to protect againt air pollution, visit www.stateoftheair.org.

For more information, call the local American Lung Association or speak with a nurse or respiratory therapist at no charge through the free Lung HelpLine, (800) 586-4872 (LUNG-USA), or visit www.californialung.org.

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