Lung Association Raises Alarm on Air Quality

The latest edition of the American Lung Association's State of the Air study finds that things are improving in many areas, but more than half of the country's citizens live in areas with poor air quality. The numbers remain especially troubling in California.

If you live in the United States, it’s more than likely that you live in an area with poor air quality.

That’s the assessment of the American Lung Association, which this week released the results of its 2016 State of the Air study. Although poor air quality is the norm in numerous states, ALA notes that there are positive signs to be seen: The study found that nearly all of the 25 most-polluted cities in the country showed signs of improvement in recent years.

Even the Los Angeles area, which ranked at the top of the  list, posted its best numbers in roughly a decade. Overall, such trends have been on the upswing.

But it’s not happening fast enough for the association’s tastes.

“Yet, even as most cities experienced strong improvement, too many cities suffered worse episodes of unhealthy air,” the report’s key findings state. “While most of the nation has much cleaner air quality than even a decade ago, a few cities reported their worst number of unhealthy days since the report began, including some that experienced extreme weather events.”

The study notes that 166 million people (more than half of the U.S. population) live in areas affected by air pollution that puts residents at severe risk of health problems.

A few highlights from the study:

California’s smog problem: The state of California is over-represented on the overall chart, with at least six of the top 10 cities on each of the association’s three Most Polluted Cities lists hailing from parts of the Golden State. The study found that eight-in-10 people who live in the state—or roughly 32 million Californians—were affected by poor air quality. “California is making tremendous progress,” Bonnie Holmes-Gen, senior director of air quality and climate change for ALA’s California chapter, told KPCC. “But we have a lot more work to do.”

Places where it’s easy to breathe: Not every part of California is near the bottom of the list. The group cites three regions within the state that have done pretty well on the clean-air front in recent years: Redding and Red Bluff; Salinas; and Santa Maria and Santa Barbara. Salinas joined Burlington-South Burlington, Vermont; Elmira-Corning, New York; and Honolulu, Hawaii, on the association’s cleanest cities list, according to a news release.

Warning of a rollback: Despite improvement in some of the numbers, ALA is concerned that the legal frameworks that have led to some of the recent improvements are in danger of being rolled back. “Despite that continued need and the nation’s progress, some people seek to weaken the Clean Air Act, the public health law that has driven the cuts in pollution since 1970, and to undermine the ability of the nation to fight for healthy air,” the association stated.

The  study, currently in its 17th year, is based on recent Environmental Protection Agency data on ozone and particle pollution. In case you’d like to see where your area ranked, check out the the group’s State of the Air study over this way.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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