-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
WEDNESDAY, April 25 (HealthDay News) -- Air quality in America's
most polluted cities has improved significantly over the past
decade, according to a new report from the American Lung
Even Los Angeles, famous for its morning smog, is the cleanest
it's been in 13 years, the association noted. Santa Fe, N.M. leads
the pack, having been ranked as the cleanest city in the
Despite progress in reducing the level of smog and soot in the
air, the "State of the Air" report warned that unhealthy levels of
air pollution still persist around the country.
"'State of the Air' shows that we're making real and steady progress in cutting dangerous pollution from the air we breathe," Charles Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said in an association news release. "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 But despite these improvements, America's air quality standards are woefully outdated, and unhealthy levels of air pollution still exist across the nation, putting the health of millions of Americans at stake."
In rating the air quality in cities and counties around the
country, the lung association takes into account the color-coded
Air Quality Index developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA), which alerts the public about unhealthy air
conditions. The report, released Wednesday, also used data
collected by the EPA from 2008 to 2010 on ozone and particle
The report found drastic improvements in 18 of the 25 cities
most polluted by ozone. Nine out of the top 10 cities most polluted
by ozone were in California. Topping the list was Los Angeles,
although it showed the lowest smog levels since the report was
first published back in 2000.
Particle pollution also dropped significantly in 17 of the 25
most polluted cities, including Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and
Cincinnati. This mix of microscopic bits of ash, soot, diesel
exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols can lead to early death,
heart attacks and strokes.
Four cities -- Pittsburgh, San Diego, Philadelphia and Visalia,
Calif. -- dropped to their lowest levels of short-term particle
pollution on record, the report noted. Birmingham, Ala., Detroit
and York, Pa., dropped off the list of the 25 most polluted cities
entirely -- a first for all three.
The lung association cautioned that much work remains to be done
to improve air quality in the United States. Forty percent of
Americans, or 127 million people, live in areas where air pollution
poses a threat to their health. These people are at greater risk
for wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and
premature death, the report noted.
Infants, children, seniors and anyone with lung diseases, heart
disease or diabetes are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of
air pollution. Those with low incomes or jobs that require them to
work outside are also at greater risk.
The report revealed that 38.5 percent of Americans live in
counties that received an "F" for air quality because of unhealthy
levels of ozone air pollution, which can cause chronic health
problems. Meanwhile, almost 50 million people in the United States
live in counties with unhealthy surges in particle pollution
levels. Year-round particle pollution threatens another 6 million
The standards set under the Clean Air Act are a driving force
behind the improvement in air quality in the United States,
according to the lung association. The legislation aims to clean up
major sources of air pollution such as coal-fired power plants and
diesel engines to reduce the amount of ozone and particle pollution
in the air. The EPA estimated that cutting air pollution through
this measure would prevent at least 230,000 deaths and save $2
trillion annually by 2020.
The report warned, however, that the positive trend in U.S. air
quality will not continue if opponents of the Clean Air Act gain
the upper hand on Capitol Hill.
"We still need to fulfill the promise of clean, healthy air for everyone, and that can only become a reality through the full implementation of the Clean Air Act. The American Lung Association strongly opposes any efforts to weaken, delay, or undermine the protective standards the law provides," said Connor. "The American Lung Association has been leading the fight for clean air for decades, and we are as determined as ever to give every American the clean air they deserve to breathe every day."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on
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