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Report: State’s air quality is improving

The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2013 report finds that while ozone and particle pollution (soot) levels  improved in  many parts of Connecticut since the 2012 report, there were still some spikes in unhealthy air days.

While some Connecticut counties’ grades improved and no county in the state received a worse grade than in last year’s report, New Haven and New London experienced slightly higher levels of ozone than in the 2012 report, and Hartford saw a slight increase in short-term particle pollution.

Nevertheless, State of the Air 2013 shows that the air quality in Connecticut, and across the country, continues the longstanding trend towards much healthier air.

“Despite our progress in cleaning up our air, we know that national air quality standards are still not strong enough to protect public health,” said Jeff Seyler, President & CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “We need strong policies in place on the federal, state and local levels to ensure healthier air to breathe.  Tighter standards and stronger policies will help us reach our goal of seeing a report card which is giving straight A’s across the nation.”

Four out of eight counties with ozone monitors in Connecticut received failing grades for ozone. Tolland County improved its grade for ozone pollution from an F to a D.  New Haven and New London both received Fs and had even higher levels of ozone than in last year’s report.  Windham now has an ozone monitor but there was insufficient data to render a grade.

Meanwhile, the New York-Newark-Bridgeport (NY-NJ-CT-PA) metro area had lower ozone levels and ranked tied for 17th most polluted in the nation, an improvement from 2012.

Fairfield County, the most polluted county in the metro area, had fewer days with unhealthy levels of ozone. Additionally, Hartford-West Hartford-Willimantic and Norwich-New London ranked tied for 58th most polluted for ozone out of 239 metro areas ranked.

Ozone (smog) is the most widespread air pollutant, created by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other sources. When ozone is inhaled, it irritates the lungs, almost like a bad sunburn. It can cause immediate health problems that continue days later. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death.

All counties in Connecticut received passing grades for both short-term and annual particle pollution and no county had worse annual levels than in the 2012 report. Only Hartford County had slightly worse levels of short-term particle pollution even though its grade remained a B.  New Haven improved its grade from D to C and New London improved its grade from C to B.

The New York-Newark-Bridgeport (NY-NJ-CT-PA) metro area ranked tied for 55th most polluted city for short-term particle pollution out of 235 metro areas and ranked tied for 45th most polluted for annual particle pollution out of 220 metro areas. Hartford-West Hartford-Willimantic ranked tied for 92nd most polluted for short-term particle pollution and ranked tied for 163rd most polluted for annual particle pollution.  Norwich-New London ranked tied for 112th most polluted for short-term particle pollution and ranked tied for 179th most polluted for annual particle pollution. Litchfield County ranked tied for 22nd on the list of the top 25 cleanest counties for annual particle pollution.  Litchfield also earned a place on the list of cleanest counties for short-term particle pollution with no days with unhealthy levels of particle pollution.

Particle pollution, called fine particulate matter or PM 2.5, is a deadly cocktail of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols that can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end. The body’s natural defenses, coughing and sneezing, fail to keep these microscopic particles from burrowing deep within the lungs, triggering serious problems such as asthma and heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and even early death. Much like ozone pollution is likened to a sunburn on the lungs, exposure to particle pollution has been compared to rubbing sandpaper on the lungs.

“The air in Connecticut is certainly cleaner than when we started the ‘State of the Air’ report 14 years ago,” said Michelle Marichal, Interim Director of Health Education & Public Policy for the American Lung Association in Connecticut.  “While we still have too many counties with failing grades, the air quality is still better compared to a decade ago. Just a few short years ago, every single county with a monitor in Connecticut failed for ozone.  But the work is not done, and we must set stronger health standards for pollutants and cleanup sources of pollution to protect the health of our citizens.”

Despite improvements, the State of the Air 2013 report found that more than 131.8 million people in the U.S. still live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution, which equates to more than 4 in 10 people (42 percent).  In Connecticut, 2.2 million people live in a county with failing air quality.

The Lung Association was a leader in a fight for a new, national air quality standard that strengthened outdated limits on annual levels of particle pollution, announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last December.  Thanks to tough air pollution laws together with the EPA’s enforcement of strong air pollution health standards, like this one, set under the Clean Air Act the U.S. has seen continued reductions in air pollution.

Cleaning up major air pollution sources through steps like the recently proposed cleaner gasoline and vehicle standards will drastically cut both ozone and particle pollution levels. These new, more protective standards would limit sulfur in gasoline for the cost of about one penny per gallon and would tighten the limits on tailpipe emissions from new vehicles.  That means more health protections for the nearly 132 million people living in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution. Those at greatest risk from air pollution include infants, children, older adults, anyone with lung diseases like asthma and COPD, people with heart disease or diabetes, low-income communities and anyone who works or exercises outdoors.

The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2013 report is an annual, national air quality “report card.” The 2013 report—the 14th annual release—uses the most recent quality assured air pollution data, compiled by the EPA, in 2009, 2010, and 2011.  Data comes from the official monitors for the two most widespread types of pollution, ozone (smog) and particle pollution (PM 2.5, also known as soot). The report grades counties and ranks cities and counties based on their scores for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels.

The American Lung Association of the Northeast urges the public to join the fight for clean air and to learn how to protect themselves and their families from air pollution by visiting www.stateoftheair.org. For more information on air quality in Connecticut, visit   www.LungNE.org and follow   on Twitter at www.twitter.com/LungNE and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LungNE.

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