Perspective

Nearly half the US population breathes unhealthy air

Approximately 138.5 million Americans, or almost 44%, currently live in areas where pollution levels often are considered too dangerous to breathe, according to the State of the Air 2015 report from the American Lung Association.

While the organization reported that several cities experienced significant improvements in air quality, other cities showed worse results.

The American Lung Association obtained air quality data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality System to analyze levels of ozone and particle pollution found in monitoring sites nationwide in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The report examined particle pollution (PM2.5) for both average annual exposure as well as short-term pollution levels.

Areas in the East saw the most progress in reduced year-round particle pollution, primarily due to cleaner diesel fleets and fuels used in power plants, according to the report. People in the West, however, experienced a record number of days with high short-term particle pollution mainly because of droughts and heat that likely increased dust levels as well as grass and wildfires.

Of the 25 metropolitan areas with the worst year-round levels of particle pollution, 14 reduced their annual levels compared to 2010-2013.

Although it improved, Fresno-Madera, California, remained the most polluted metro area for year-round particle pollution.

Cleveland; Louisville, Kentucky; Philadelphia, Pittsburgh; and New York each saw their lowest year-round particle pollution, but still had levels above the national air quality standard of 0.075 parts per million (ppm) measured over 8 hours.

Six metro areas had more annual particle pollution compared with last year’s report. Bakersfield, Modesto-Merced, El Centro, San Jose-San Francisco, California, and Cincinnati and Harrisburg-York, Pennsylvania, all failed the national air quality standard.

Bismarck, North Dakota; Cape Coral-Fort Myers-Naples, Florida; Elmira-Corning, New York; Fargo-Wahpeton, North Dakota-Minnesota; Rapid City-Spearfish, South Dakota; and Salinas, California, had no days in the unhealthy level (0.096 – 0.115 ppm) for ozone or short-term particle pollution and were among the cleanest cities for year-round particle pollution.

The American Lung Association said the risk factors associated with high airborne pollutants include people with asthma, other chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

Approximately 3.1 million children and 9.5 million adults with asthma live in counties across the U.S. that received an F for at least one pollutant. More than 6.3 million people with COPD also live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant.

“Examining the records from a long-term national database, researchers found a higher risk of death from respiratory diseases associated with increases in ozone,” the report said. – by Ryan McDonald

Approximately 138.5 million Americans, or almost 44%, currently live in areas where pollution levels often are considered too dangerous to breathe, according to the State of the Air 2015 report from the American Lung Association.

While the organization reported that several cities experienced significant improvements in air quality, other cities showed worse results.

The American Lung Association obtained air quality data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality System to analyze levels of ozone and particle pollution found in monitoring sites nationwide in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The report examined particle pollution (PM2.5) for both average annual exposure as well as short-term pollution levels.

Areas in the East saw the most progress in reduced year-round particle pollution, primarily due to cleaner diesel fleets and fuels used in power plants, according to the report. People in the West, however, experienced a record number of days with high short-term particle pollution mainly because of droughts and heat that likely increased dust levels as well as grass and wildfires.

Of the 25 metropolitan areas with the worst year-round levels of particle pollution, 14 reduced their annual levels compared to 2010-2013.

Although it improved, Fresno-Madera, California, remained the most polluted metro area for year-round particle pollution.

Cleveland; Louisville, Kentucky; Philadelphia, Pittsburgh; and New York each saw their lowest year-round particle pollution, but still had levels above the national air quality standard of 0.075 parts per million (ppm) measured over 8 hours.

Six metro areas had more annual particle pollution compared with last year’s report. Bakersfield, Modesto-Merced, El Centro, San Jose-San Francisco, California, and Cincinnati and Harrisburg-York, Pennsylvania, all failed the national air quality standard.

Bismarck, North Dakota; Cape Coral-Fort Myers-Naples, Florida; Elmira-Corning, New York; Fargo-Wahpeton, North Dakota-Minnesota; Rapid City-Spearfish, South Dakota; and Salinas, California, had no days in the unhealthy level (0.096 – 0.115 ppm) for ozone or short-term particle pollution and were among the cleanest cities for year-round particle pollution.

The American Lung Association said the risk factors associated with high airborne pollutants include people with asthma, other chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

Approximately 3.1 million children and 9.5 million adults with asthma live in counties across the U.S. that received an F for at least one pollutant. More than 6.3 million people with COPD also live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant.

“Examining the records from a long-term national database, researchers found a higher risk of death from respiratory diseases associated with increases in ozone,” the report said. – by Ryan McDonald

    Perspective
    Dean Mitchell

    Dean Mitchell

    The recent release of the State of the Air Report 2015 by the American Lung Association raises important concerns about the air we are breathing. As the summer soon arrives, we are all paying more attention to the UV index reported by weather forecasters and listed in newspapers to reduce the risk for skin cancers. In addition, this ALA report reminds us that paying attention to the ozone levels in our respective cities is critical for our health.

    As an allergist and immunologist, I am closely following pollen reports this spring as the tree and grass pollen rises. I tend to see more patients coming into my office reporting upper airway and respiratory complaints: sneezing, itchy eyes and wheezing. However, this report reminds me to pay special attention to the ozone reports as well. Patients with asthma, chronic bronchitis and COPD are all highly sensitive to high levels of ozone in the air. Patients with these medical conditions need to stay indoors on the high ozone level days and take special precautions to go out in the early morning or evening when the ozone level is lower.

    • Dean Mitchell, MD
    • President, Allergy Advances Medical, New York

    Disclosures: Mitchell reports no relevant financial disclosures.