U.S. Air Cleaner But Millions Still Inhale Soot, Smog

NEW YORK, New York, April 27, 2006 (ENS) – Federal efforts to control air pollution from power plants are paying off, according to the annual American Lung Association's State of the Air: 2006 report released today. But the report finds that nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population still lives in areas with unhealthful levels of both smog and soot.

“Our report shows real improvement in the air quality in much of the nation. We’re seeing the benefits of cleaning up dirty power plants with healthier air and a better quality of life. But that doesn’t mean it’s clean enough, and we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” said John Kirkwood, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association.

The Lung Association is urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to further protect public health by curbing pollution from marine and locomotive sources.

power plant

The Stanton power plant operated by the Orlando Utilities Commission burns bituminous coal and landfill gas. (Photo by Curt Bergesen)
The State of the Air: 2006 finds that more than 150 million Americans still live in counties where they are exposed to unhealthful levels of air pollution. The report ranks the cities and counties with the dirtiest air, and provides county-by-county report cards on the two most pervasive air pollutants: particle pollution, or soot and ground-level ozone, or smog.

The report shows that an estimated 42.5 million Americans – nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population – live in 34 counties with unhealthful levels of both ozone and particle pollution.

Cities ranking among the worst in the nation for both pollutants include five in California - Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Fresno, Hanford and Visalia.

In the Midwest, residents of Cleveland, Ohio and St. Louis, Missouri experience the worst air pollution.

In the Northeast, New York City, Newark, New Jersey and Bridgeport, Connecticut are on the worst air list. And in the Mid-Atlantic region, Washington, DC; Baltimore, Maryland, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are listed as having levels of soot and smog that are too high.

While air pollution is unsafe for everyone, people with asthma, adults over 65, children under 18, people with diabetes, respiratory or cardiovascular disease are at greatest risk.

“In the eastern United States, where dirty power plants have been polluting the air for decades, efforts to control particle pollution are making a difference in the lives of people at risk from exposure to unhealthful air,” said Janice Nolen, director, national policy at the American Lung Association.

The State of the Air: 2006 report takes a closer look at pollution from marine and locomotive sources. State and local air pollution officials estimate that pollution from these sources is responsible for 4,000 premature deaths a year.

ferry

A Staten Island ferry crosses New York harbor on a hazy day releasing diesel emissions from its stack. (Photo courtesy Gard Karlsen)
The EPA has promised to issue guidelines for limiting air pollution from marine and locomotive sources but has not yet acted. Marine sources include vessels from tug boats and ferries to recreational boats. Emissions from boats foul the air in port cities like Houston, Los Angeles, and New York.

Diesel-powered locomotives continue to pollute the air in cities like Chicago and Pittsburgh.

“We have mounting scientific proof that cleaning up the source of air pollution results in cleaner air and less illness and death,” said Nolen.

New research from scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, showed that when particle air pollution declines in a city, the death rates there also drop.

Scientists monitored and analyzed air pollution and health data in six metropolitan areas Watertown, Massachusetts; Kingston and Harriman, Tennessee; St. Louis, Missouri; Steubenville, Ohio; Portage, Wyocena and Pardeeville, Wisconsin; and Topeka, Kansas.

The researchers found that for each one microgram decrease in soot per cubic meter of air, death rates from cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness and lung cancer dropped by three percent – extending the lives of 75,000 people a year in the United States.

The study was published in the March 15 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

“This study further proves that cleaning up big polluters does help protect public health,” said Nolen.

To see how any particular community ranks in the State of the Air: 2006 report and learn protective techniques that work to combat air pollution, go to: www.lungusa.org.