What middle-size cities offer: Clean Air

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State of the Air

The American Lung Association’s State of the Air report had some sobering news for many big metro areas last week. Not only do the central cities suffer from poor air quality, but the problem often encompasses the suburbs too, as ozone and particle pollution spreads over U.S. megalopolises.

Typically, the worst-rated cities (the worst of the worst are listed below) have unacceptably high levels of ozone (smog) created by tailpipe pollution and industrial emissions. “Particle pollution” from coal-fired power plants, diesel fuels and wood-burning stoves also raised air pollution to levels considered unhealthy in many big cities.

Both types of pollution, ozone and particle, aggravate asthma, contribute to lung cancer and worsen respiratory and heart conditions, according to the ALA.

Where’s the good news? In Springfield, Peoria, Sioux Falls, Lincoln, Duluth, Grand Junction, Tuscaloosa, Bangor, Fort Collins, Flagstaff, Laredo and a few dozen more mid-sized cities that the ALA rated as having the best air quality. Those cities rated best on at least one of the three indexes tracked by the ALA.  (See more about the Cleanest Cities.)

Four metro regions — Bismarck, ND; Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL; Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL; and Rapid City, SD, rated well on all three indexes (ozone, short-term particle pollution and year-round particle pollution). These cities suffered no “unhealthy” days caused by ozone or particle pollution and were among the top 25 cities with the lowest year-round particle levels.

And there was more good news in the 2013 annual report.

“We are happy to report that the state of our air is much cleaner today than when we started the ‘State of the Air’ report 14 years ago,” said Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association in a statement. “Even in parts of the country that experienced increases in unhealthy days of high ozone and short-term particle pollution, they still have better air quality compared to a decade ago.”

The challenge, however, comes in trying to improve air quality in those cities that still don’t meet safe ozone and particle pollution levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

By the American Lung Association’s calculations, nearly 132 million people live in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution, which can cause “wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death.”

The situation is particularly hard on those with undeveloped or impaired respiratory systems, such as infants, children, seniors, asthmatics, people with heart disease or diabetes and people who work or exercise outdoors.

To continue to improve air quality, the ALA recommends that the U.S. :

*Clean up car emissions by making sure the EPA issues stricter guidelines by the end of 2013. (These new rules are known as Tier 3 Gasoline and Vehicle Standards.

* Clean up coal-fired plants, which are the single largest producer of greenhouse gasses, and also emit mercury, benzene, dioxins, arsenic and lead, which can cause cancer and cardiovascular disease, and damage the kidneys, lungs and nervous system.  Again, the EPA needs to follow-up with tighter guidelines for new and existing coal-fired power plants.

*Strengthen ozone standards to better protect public health, something that the Obama and predecessor administrations have failed to do.

The report did not discuss greener sources of energy, such as solar, wind and geothermal , which environmentalists tout as a way to clear the air by reducing the number of coal-burning power plants.

Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Short-term Particle Pollution (24-hour PM 2.5)

Metropolitan Statistical Areas

  1. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.
  2. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
  3. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
  4. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
  5. Modesto, Calif.
  6. Salt Lake City-Ogden-Clearfield, Utah
  7. Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa.
  8. Merced, Calif.
  9. Fairbanks, Alaska
  10. Logan, Utah-Idaho

Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Year-Round Particle Pollution (Annual PM 2.5)

Metropolitan Statistical Areas

1. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.
1.  Merced, Calif.
3.  Fresno-Madera, Calif.
4.  Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
4.  Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
6.  Modesto, Calif.
7.  Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
8.  Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa.
9.  El Centro, Calif.
10.  Cincinnati-Middletown-Wilmington, Ohio-Ky.-Ind.

Top 10 Most Ozone-Polluted Cities

Metropolitan Statistical Areas

  1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
  2. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
  3. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.
  4. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
  5. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
  6. Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Yuba City, Calif.-Nev.
  7. Houston-Baytown-Huntsville, Texas
  8. Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas
  9. Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia, District of Columbia-Md.-Va.-W.Va.
  10. El Centro, Calif.

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