More Americans Breathing Dirty Air, Report Says

Three hundred eighty-two U.S. counties received an "F" for ozone\r\nair pollution, according to the American Lung Association's annual\r\nState of the Air report.

Three hundred eighty-two U.S. counties received an "F" for ozone air pollution -- a 15 percent increase from statistics released in May 2000, according to the American Lung Association''s (ALA) annual State of the Air report.

According to the report, the number of Americans living in areas that received an "F" increased by more than 9 million compared with last year''s report -- from 132 million to more than 141 million.

The release of the report marks the beginning of ALA''s annual Clean Air Month campaign.

"Without a doubt, Americans'' health remains threatened by air pollution," said John Garrison, chief executive officer of the ALA. "State of the Air confirms that ozone air pollution isn''t a hit-or-miss problem depending on where you live. Smog affects people''s ability to breathe throughout America -- in small, medium and large metropolitan areas -- every summer. And we see this at a time when clean air laws are being threatened in Washington."

Five new cities appear on the 2001 list of America''s 25 most ozone-polluted cities: Richmond-Petersburg, Va.; Baton Rouge, La.; Louisville, Ky.; Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point, N.C.; and Chattanooga, Tenn.

Three states -- North Carolina, Georgia and Maryland -- have more counties on this year''s list of America''s 25 most ozone-polluted counties compared with last year.

The 10 most ozone-polluted metropolitan areas are: Los Angeles-Riverside- Orange County, Calif.; Bakersfield, Calif.; Fresno, Calif.; Visalia-Tulare-Porterville, Calif.; Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, Texas; Atlanta, Ga.; Washington-Baltimore, D.C., Md., Va., W.V.; Charlotte, Gastonia, Rock Hill, N.C., S.C.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Philadelphia-Wilmington-Atlantic City, Pa., N.J., Del., Md.

Areas with the cleanest air include Bellingham, Wash.; Colorado, Colo.; Des Moines, Iowa; Duluth, Minn.; Fargo, N.D.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Laredo, Texas; Lincoln, Neb.; McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas; Salinas, Calif.; and Spokane, Wash.

State of the Air 2001 examines ozone air quality data for 1997 to 1999, which are the most recent quality-assured data from EPA; the 2000 report focused on data for 1996 to 1998.

The report grades and ranks counties on how often their air quality exceeds "unhealthful" categories of EPA''s Air Quality Index for ozone air pollution.

State of the Air 2001 analyzes ozone data in all areas in which ozone monitors exist, representing a population base of more than 187 million Americans.

Ozone is a highly reactive form of oxygen that results primarily from the action of sunlight on hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides emitted in fuel combustion.

Ozone levels typically rise during the period between May and October when higher temperatures and increased amount of sunlight combine with the stagnant atmospheric conditions that are associated with ozone air pollution episodes.

Even relatively low ozone levels can affect even healthy people''s ability to breathe, according to ALA.

Ozone exposure may lead to shortness of breath, chest pain when inhaling deeply, wheezing and coughing.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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