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Air Quality Improvements Uneven

Some air quality pollutants, overall, have fallen.
Source: EPA Click to enlarge chart

The United States continues to improve on some measures of air quality, but not all Americans are fully enjoying the improvements.

Those were the findings of the American Lung Association's State of the Air 2013 report. The report not only assesses overall air quality, but ranks cities according to their cleanliness.

Despite the overall progress the report found that 40% of the population lives in areas with unhealthy ozone or short-term or year-round particle pollution levels.

Only four cities made the cleanest list for those three pollutants: Bismarck (ND); Cape Coral-Fort Myers (FL); Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville (FL); and Rapid City (SD).

The report also made policy recommendations. It support reducing harmful vehicle emissions, especially for sulfur pollution. It also supported rules that would clean up the 400 coal plants operating in 40 states. These power plants emit at least 84 toxic pollutants.

Air Quality Details Show Disparities

Air quality affects distinct communities and population groups differently. In its deep analysis of the effects of air quality on people, the ALA found that 44 million (14% of the population) live in areas with unhealthy levels of particle pollution year round.

Also, 20 million people living below the poverty level live in counties with substandard air quality in at least of the three categories (ozone, short-term particle or year-round particle pollution.)

Further, millions more with special health considerations live in counties failing one or more measure of air quality. They are:

  • Children and teens - 32.3 million
  • The elderly (65 and older) - 15.8 million
  • People with Asthma - 11.4 million
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease - 5.8 million
  • Cardiovascular disease - 32.5 million
  • Diabetes - 4.2 million
  • The State of the Air report also pointed to other disparities of how poor air quality affects people. Researchers at the Health Effects Institute found that people living within 300 to 500 yards of a road with heavy traffic are more likely to suffer adverse health effects than those living beyond that range. In North America this would impact between 35% and 45% of the population.

    Also CO2 emissions have grown by a third since 1970, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    The American Lung Association's Web site allows you to find your local air quality information on their search page. It's PDF report breaks down and ranks various pollution levels by city and county. - April 25, 2013

    For related information, see our Clean City Channel.


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