More than half US population lives amid dangerous air pollution, report warns 

American Lung Association’s ‘state of the air’ report finds 166 million Americans are living in unhealthy ozone or particle pollution with serious health risks

More than half of the US population lives amid potentially dangerous air pollution, with national efforts to improve air quality at risk of being reversed, a new report has warned.

A total of 166 million Americans live in areas that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association, raising their risk of lung cancer, asthma attacks, heart disease, reproductive problems and other ailments.

The association’s 17th annual “state of the air” report found that there has been a gradual improvement in air quality in recent years but warned progress has been too slow and could even be reversed by efforts in Congress to water down the Clean Air Act.

Climate change is also a looming air pollution challenge, with the report charting an increase in short-term spikes in particle pollution. Many of these day-long jumps in soot and smoke have come from a worsening wildfire situation across the US, especially in areas experiencing prolonged dry conditions.

Six of the 10 worst US cities for short-term pollution are in California, which has been in the grip of an historic drought. Bakersfield, California, was named the most polluted city for both short-term and year-round particle pollution, while Los Angeles-Long Beach was the worst for ozone pollution.

Small particles that escape from the burning of coal and from vehicle tail pipes can bury themselves deep in people’s lungs, causing various health problems. Ozone and other harmful gases can also be expelled from these sources, triggering asthma attacks and even premature death.

People at Risk In 25 US Cities Most Polluted by Year-Round Particle Pollution

No. Metropolitan Area Total Population Pediatric Asthma Adult Asthma CV Disease
1 Bakersfield, CA 874,589 22,811 47,274 39,611
2 Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, CA 608,467 16,490 32,302 27,286
3 Fresno-Madera, CA 1,120,522 28,482 61,434 54,190
4 Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA 18,550,288 391,452 1,093,121 981,745
5 El Centro, CA 179,091 4,527 9,863 8,897
6 Modesto-Merced, CA 798,350 19,952 44,214 39,399
6 San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA 8,607,423 166,204 523,893 488,003
8 Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, PA–OH–WV 2,653,781 55,262 210,546 218,588
9 Harrisburg-York-Lebanon, PA 1,239,677 29,398 95,249 94,211
10 Louisville/Jefferson County-Elizabethtown-Madison, KY–IN 1,498,593 35,700 134,900 132,990
11 Cleveland-Akron-Canton, OH 3,497,851 79,634 296,253 285,478
12 Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, PA–NJ–DE–MD 7,164,790 164,662 520,226 491,940
13 Indianapolis-Carmel-Muncie, IN 2,353,935 46,418 190,921 157,184
14 Cincinnati-Wilmington-Maysville, OH–KY–IN 2,208,450 55,681 186,179 168,576
14 Altoona, PA 125,955 2,803 9,732 10,387
16 Houston-The Woodlands, TX 6,686,318 126,257 322,667 362,663
16 San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA 279,083 4,486 17,852 18,081
16 Lancaster, PA 533,320 13,929 39,794 39,175
16 Johnstown-Somerset, PA 213,950 4,396 16,796 18,455
20 Detroit-Warren-Ann Arbor, MI 5,315,251 123,521 448,280 401,894
21 Erie-Meadville, PA 365,618 8,598 28,186 27,596
22 Birmingham-Hoover-Talladega, AL 1,317,269 40,271 96,700 119,939
23 Little Rock-North Little Rock, AR 902,443 19,823 60,518 83,498
23 Fairbanks, AK 99,357 2,205 5,999 3,875
23 Wheeling, WV–OH 145,205 2,779 12,814 15,016
SOURCE: American Lung Association, State of the Air 2016

It isn’t all bad news – the total number of unhealthy air days has fallen and year-round particle pollution has dropped as old diesel engines are retired and coal-fired power plants are cleaned up. The federal Clean Air Act, established in 1970, is credited with cleaning up many US cities that were previously blighted by harmful smog. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the legislation will have saved around 4.2 million lives by 2020.

But environmental groups have warned that some members of Congress are actively attempting to weaken the Clean Air Act. A bill backed by the Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz would prevent the federal government from regulating various toxins under the Clean Air Act. Republicans have also objected to the act being used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, prompting a US supreme court challenge to the Clean Power Plan.

“There are wide-ranging extreme measures to undermine the Clean Air Act,” said Paul Billings, senior vice-president for advocacy at the American Lung Association. “If we roll back and weaken these protections, the health consequences will be dire.

“We’ve certainly seen dramatic improvements in air quality but far too many cities and counties exceed levels where adverse effects occur. Progress should be faster. Americans deserve to breathe clean air and there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Billings said more needed to be done to prevent pollution from wood stoves and from oil and gas extraction.

Source: More than half US population lives amid dangerous air pollution, report warns | Environment | The Guardian

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