- A significant decrease in nationwide air pollution due to greener fuels and emission constraints was noted, particularly in northeast and midwest cities.
- Air quality improvement is not uniformly distributed, with many western urban areas still enduring poor air quality.
- The recent national air quality survey identified Phoenix/Mesa/Scottsdale in Arizona as the most polluted area in terms of year-round particle pollutant exposure, and Los Angeles having the country’s worst ozone pollution.
- Experts indicate that certain demographics, such as the elderly, young children, people suffering from cardiac and/or lung diseases and lower-income populations are disproportionately affected by air pollution.
- Despite improvements in some areas, one quarter of Americans experience short-term pollution surges leading to “unhealthy” air quality incidents.
Continuous efforts spanning a decade to combat air pollution in the United States have yielded positive results, particularly in northeast and midwest cities. However, disturbingly, a recent investigation has disclosed that 175 million Americans still experience hazardous levels of smog and soot.
Noted Drop in Nationwide Air Pollution
The provincially-centred study, courtesy of the American Lung Association, attributes a significant decrease in nationwide air pollution to a transition toward greener fuels and engines, coupled with constraints on emissions from coal power plants. This, combined with industrial clean-up initiatives, has culminated in a reduction of both particle pollution (fine particles of soot, dust, and aerosols) and ozone pollution.
Disparities in Air Quality Across the Country
Curiously, improvements in air quality have not been uniformly distributed across national territories. Many western urban areas persistently endure poor air quality, translating to the reality that 58 percent of Americans still breathe polluted air.
“Air doesn’t spontaneously purify itself,” comments Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of national policy and advocacy for the lung association. “Historically, we’ve found that you need to implement control mechanisms on pollution-contributing factors to see changes.”
While she expressed satisfaction at the results of the implemented air control measures, she emphasized the ongoing nature of the struggle for improved air quality. “There are visible positive trends, but our work is far from finished.”
Air Quality Overview and Report Findings
This newly released survey, which serves as a national air quality assessment, uses air pollution data collected between 2006 and 2008 from thousands of designated air-quality monitors across the country.
After scrutinizing the data, various cities and regions were rated based on their air quality. Several places, including Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, New York City, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, saw considerable improvements in air quality, witnessing a decrease in both smog and soot levels.
Significant Air Quality Spikes
When evaluating exposure to short-lived surges of particle pollution, Alexandria, Louisiana, stood out as the cleanest city nationwide. Meanwhile, Cheyenne, Wyo., registered the lowest levels of yearly particle pollution.
Regrettably, the study also revealed that millions are still suffering. Around a quarter of Americans currently reside in regions where short-term pollution surges result in “unhealthy” air quality, while one in 10 experience year-round particle pollution.
Cities with the Worst Air Quality
The urban jurisdiction surrounding Phoenix/Mesa/Scottsdale in Arizona has been identified as the most polluted area in terms of year-round particle pollutant exposure. Bakersfield, Californa, however, holds the record for the highest number of unhealthy air quality days per year caused by short-term particle pollution events.
In contrast, ozone pollution levels appear to be falling in 14 of the 25 most heavily polluted urban areas.
Ozone and Particle Pollution Levels across the Country
While some cities, such as Bismarck, N.D., were commended for minimal ozone exposure, others, primarily in California, actually saw decreasing air quality over the past decade.
Unfortunately, Los Angeles holds the dubious honor of having the country’s worst ozone pollution. However, the survey does provide a silver lining – the city’s ozone levels were the second-lowest since the start of the millennium.
Certain demographics, including the elderly, young children, and those suffering from cardiac and/or lung diseases, are disproportionately affected by air pollution. Lower-income populations represent another sector particularly vulnerable to sustained exposure to polluted air.
Expert Commentary and Responses
Speaking from the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Professor Frederica P. Perera expresses concern with the report’s findings on the elevated risk posed by air pollutants to children, stating, “Our research reveals that the young are uniquely susceptible to the impacts of airborne pollutants.”
For more details on air pollution, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.