Breathe easier: Air pollution down in many cities


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If you live in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati, you may have noticed that the air around you has gotten a little cleaner. Though all three of these cities were among the top 10 most polluted by year-round particle pollution, according to The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2012 report, they were also among the most improved. Perhaps the days of the infamous L.A. smog will soon be over.

Other improvements were seen in such cities as San Diego, Philadelphia and Visalia, Calif., which had their lowest-ever, short-term particle pollution levels, and Birmingham, Ala.; Detroit; and York, Pa., which dropped completely off the report’s 25 most-polluted cities lists.

Despite these improvements, more than 127 million Americans are living in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution, according to The American Lung Association. This pollution can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature death. Those at greatest risk from air pollution include infants, children, older adults, anyone with lung diseases like asthma, people with heart disease or diabetes, people with low incomes, and anyone who works or exercises outdoors.

“State of the Air shows that we’re making real and steady progress in cutting dangerous pollution from the air we breathe,” said Charles Connor, American Lung Association president and CEO. “We owe this to the ongoing protection of the Clean Air Act. But despite these improvements, America’s air-quality standards are woefully outdated, and unhealthy levels of air pollution still exist across the nation, putting the health of millions of Americans at stake.”

So which city is the cleanest in terms of pollution? That would be Santa Fe, N.M.

The Lung Association’s annual air quality report grades cities and counties based, in part, on the color-coded Air Quality Index developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to alert the public to daily unhealthy air conditions. The 13th annual report uses the most recent, quality-controlled EPA data collected from 2008 through 2010 from official monitors for ozone and particle pollution, the two most widespread types of air pollution. Counties are graded for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels. The report also uses EPA’s calculations for year-round particle levels.

To learn more about the report, see where your community ranks and discover how to protect yourself from air pollution, visit www.stateoftheair.org.