Washington gets mixed grades for air quality

May 18, 2010

By Staff

Washington’s air quality scored mixed grades for ozone and particle pollution in the 11th annual American Lung Association’s State of the Air report.

According to the report, Clallam and Clark counties are among the cleanest counties in the nation for ozone air pollution.

The report also shows that people in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties are breathing dangerous levels of ozone or particle pollution, a public health issue that impacts even healthy individuals, as well as those most at risk, including children, the elderly and people with chronic health conditions, like diabetes, heart and lung disease.

“‘State of the Air 2010’ proves with hard data that cleaning up air pollution produces healthier air,” said Astrid Berg, executive director of the American Lung Association in Washington. “We need to put that message to work, so that policies that can protect Washington residents from pollution can be put into effect.”

The State of the Air report is an annual, national air quality report card that assigns A-F grades to counties across the country, and ranks cities and counties most affected by the three most widespread types of pollution (ozone or smog, particle pollution or soot, and 24-hour particle pollution levels).

The 2010 report uses the most recent quality-assured air pollution data, collected in 2006, 2007 and 2008. The report also details trends for the 25 most polluted cities across the country. Grades for the 1,000 counties with air pollution monitors can be found by typing in a ZIP code here.

King and Pierce counties scored an “F” for ozone, while Skagit, Spokane and Thurston counties received a “B.” Clallam and Clark counties received an “A.”

Ozone, also called smog, is the most widespread type of air pollutant. Ozone levels peak on the hottest days of the year when ozone precursors (volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, etc.) react in the presence of sunshine to form ozone. The largest sources of these precursors are gasoline stations and motor vehicles.

Breathing ozone irritates the lungs, resulting in the equivalent of a bad sunburn. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and even shorten lives.

“Everyone can make individual changes that will positively impact air quality in our state, including driving less, avoiding gasoline-powered yard equipment on hot days, idling less in our cars, refraining from burning trash or wood, and using less electricity,” Berg said. “Every little bit helps in ensuring that the air in Washington will be clean and healthy to breathe for generations to come.”

The American Lung Association is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require even greater clean up of power plants and ocean-going vessels, to strengthen national standards for outdoor air pollutants and to set new standards that require the cleanup of nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons and particle emissions from cars.

The EPA, at the urging of the American Lung Association, is currently considering setting tighter limits on ozone. These higher air quality standards would help drive the work that communities do to clean up ozone and other pollutants, and ultimately provide much greater protection for public health.

“Reducing ozone to healthy levels and protecting all from this potentially deadly air pollutant requires individual action, tough state regulations and much stronger federal standards,” Berg explained. “The health of our children is being endangered by air pollution rules that are too lax to provide them a safe place to grow up. Our most populated counties in Washington fall well below a passing grade.

“Until we address the air pollution issues highlighted in this year’s State of the Air report, we will continue endangering the lives of two-thirds of our state’s population — many of whom are too young to be held responsible or for whom health disparities are the greatest,” she said. “We still have a long way to go before all of us are breathing healthy air. We won’t settle for less.”

The American Lung Association in Washington is working with Congress to ensure that only clean diesel equipment is used in federally funded construction projects, and to provide funds for the cleanup of the 20 million diesel engines currently in use on the roads today.

Go to www.lungusa.org to send messages to Congress and the Obama administration to urge action to protect the air you breathe.

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