American Lung Association’s State of the Air Report

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Air quality in Oregon received mixed grades in the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2011, which found that people in Oregon are breathing dangerous levels of particle pollution (soot) and moderate levels of ozone air pollution (smog).

Jackson (F), Klamath (F), Lake (F) and Lane (F) counties were noted as having some of the dirtiest areas for short-term particle pollution.  In fact, Lane County again ranks as one of the areas most polluted by short-term particle pollution in the United States.  This is largely due to several high readings in Oakridge, an area with historically high levels due to geography (the city is in a “bowl”) and wood burning for residential home heating. However, since the Lung Association released its first State of the Air Report in 2000, the overall trend for Lane County is a positive one, with an overall decrease in air pollution levels. 

Jackson County experienced high particulate levels in part due to wildfires. Wood burning for home heating and air inversions trapping smoke in the Rogue Valley also contributed to elevated levels of particle pollution.
Residents in Klamath and Lake Counties also experienced days of high levels of particle pollution primarily from smoke related to residential wood burning.

Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality is working with local officials in these areas to reduce pollution through air quality improvement strategies like woodstove change out programs and local burning ordinances to reduce pollution particularly during weather inversions where smoke is trapped and builds up to unhealthy levels.
Some counties are breathing cleaner air though – five counties, including Josephine (B), Multnomah (B), Umatilla (A), Union (A), and Washington (B) counties are noted in the report as having less days of unhealthy short-term particle pollution, with Umatilla and Union counties having no days of unhealthy short-term particle pollution.

The Lung Association’s annual air quality report reveals that just over half the nation—154.5 million people—live in areas with levels of ozone and/or particle pollution that are often dangerous to breathe. Even though so many people live in areas where bad air can make them sick, some members of Congress are proposing changes to the Clean Air Act that would weaken the enforcement needed to continue to reduce air pollution, threatening human health.

Particle levels can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end (short-term) or remain at unhealthy levels on average every day (year-round).  “Particle pollution kills,” said Dr. Matthew Walter with Oregon Lung Specialists. “When you breathe these microscopic particles, you are inhaling a noxious mix of chemicals, metals, acid aerosols, ash, soot and others from diesel exhaust and other sources. It is as toxic as it sounds and can lead to early death, asthma exacerbations, heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits in substantial numbers. Science clearly has proven that we need to protect the health of the public from the dangers of particle pollution.”

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. It can cause immediate health problems and continue days later. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and even premature death.
Despite continued levels of toxic air pollution nationwide and evidence that clean-ups have drastically cut air pollution levels, some members of Congress are proposing to weaken or block enforcement of the Clean Air Act, including steps to strip legal authority and funding from the EPA. Such moves would undermine the cleanup that remains, including the long-overdue cleanup of coal-fired power plants EPA recently proposed.  As the Lung Association pointed out in its March report on toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants, the pollution from more than 440 coal-fired power plants in 46 states are among the biggest contributors to ozone and particle pollution in the U.S.

In addition, these plants produce 84 known hazardous air pollutants like arsenic, mercury, dioxins, formaldehyde and hydrogen chloride, which blow across state lines polluting the air thousands of miles away from the plants. Since this pollution spreads across state lines, the EPA’s ability to enforce standards is the only protection many communities have.

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