The State Of The Air 2012: ALA Reports The Good And The Bad

BY ON April 25, 2012

State of the Air graphic

Today the American Lung Association released its annual report, State of the Air 2012. There’s good news and bad news.

The good news is that air quality is improving in our most polluted cities, due in large part to the regulatory requirements of the Clean Air Act. The bad news, according to Janice Nolen, Assistant Vice President for National Policy and Advocacy at American Lung Association, is that “the standards are still too weak.” She explained that both the particle standard and the ozone standard established by EPA are at levels that can harm our health. Scientists have been recommending that EPA lower the allowable amounts of these pollutants in the air in order to protect health, but it hasn’t happened yet.

In other words, “we have been making progress,” she said. And, “we still have a long way to go.”

The report gives grades for US cities’ air quality. Most polluted city? For ozone pollution, it’s Los Angeles. For particle pollution, Bakersfield, CA. Least polluted city? Santa Fe, NM. Check out this INFOGRAPHIC for more.

As Moms Clean Air Force and our wonderful members know, air pollution is really bad for us and for our children. “We know that it causes premature death, heart attacks, stroke, and asthma attacks,” says Nolen. There is still some debate about whether it causes the development of asthma, as well as lung cancer. But she says that the evidence is pointing in that direction as well.

Nolen said that cleaning up the air is important for all kids, not just those with asthma. “We know that 80% of kid’s lungs develop after they are born,” she said. “It is unhealthy for all kids to breathe dirty air.”

What needs to be done to make our air cleaner?

  1. The Cross-State Air Pollution rule, as well as the proposed Mercury and Air Toxics standards, are facing challenges in the courts and in the halls of Congress. We need both of these rules to be implemented. By focusing on power plants, these rules will go a long way toward cleaning up the air of the Eastern part of the country, where power plants are a major contributor to air pollution.
  2. We need cleaner diesel engines. New engines coming on to the market are cleaner due to regulations. But the old ones last for decades. We need to do more to get them retrofitted.
  3. We need tighter controls on gas vehicles. Industry is interested in preventing this from happening. But gas combustion leads to air pollution. If cars are more efficient there will be less air pollution, even if people drive more.
  4. We need to pay attention to growing sources of air pollution, such as natural gas fracking. Nolen expressed enthusiasm over EPA’s new standards for air emissions from the development of natural gas resources.
  5. Strengthen EPA’s ozone and particle pollution standards. Science tells us that even where air is meeting the standards set by EPA, people are getting sick from that air.
  6. Finally, Nolen said, “we need to make sure that the Clean Air Act is protected.” Let your members of Congress know that you care about the Act. “Tell them: Don’t roll back these essential protections!” Lest you think such rollbacks are theoretical, Nolen reminded me that the Gasoline Regulations Act of 2012, which would prevent the EPA from finalizing air pollution regulations until their effect on gas prices is analyzed, is currently moving through the House of Representatives.

I asked Nolen what she thought were the top things parents should do to protect their children’s from the harmful health effects of air pollution. Here are her top tips:

  • Reduce exposure to major roadways. Parents should be aware that breathing within 300-500 meters of a major roadway is hazardous. Don’t let your children exercise regularly in these areas.
  • Check your Air Quality Index. You can find yours here. Nolen says, “follow the guidance related to that Index, whether it’s to avoid exercising outside or stay indoors altogether.”
  • Research your school bus fleet. Diesel buses with old engines create a lot of particle pollution for their young riders. You can find out more, including resources for how to clean up a school fleet, here.

Thank you, ALA, for giving us this important information about the air quality in our cities.


TOPICS: Asthma, Cancer, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Politics, Pollution, Science, Texas, Utah

  • Nolen is right about what she says. However, I respectfully disagree that the air is getting cleaner. Stae apportionment figures are starting to show that the wood smoke percentage of pm is on ave 50% insteasd of the old historic 5%. This points to a doubling of pm and even a tripling of pm in the northern states at leasst with high amounts of wood burning. Provinces around NewEngland are reorting a doubling and triling of the pm going into the air which would cause doubling and tripling of ave pm concentrastions in regions. Special monitoring studies by the EPA and NYSERDA check this and monitoring at houses near wood burning are showing pm violations at about 1/3 of the houses or more based on state census data.

    The ALA is a conservative group and this may explain why they are just reading the state design value reports and saying everthing is getting better. But I respectfully disagree based upon a closer look at the new science coming out from the EPA and NY and ME and NESCAUM and other sources. EDF members in New Hampshire for instance note that the air stinks there from the wood smoke whereas it did not in 2005. Given the monetary incentive for government to report pm under stds, it is wise to listen to the observations of the people because the DHHS and EPA both agree that if you can see or smell smoke, there is a health problem like second hand smoke.

    Clean Air Force Moms in NewHamspshire are right that NewHampshires air stinks. It does in my state to and I have driven throughout the Northeast and have observed the same thing in MA, CT, NY, PA. Mnitors alone do not tell the whole story. Dtr Simcox of the EPA region one office corrctly says you have to look at all the information in total and see that it checks and when it does not, you have to find the truth. Monitors and census data do not check and advanced portable monitoring checks with the census data. Pm is increasing dramatically from woodburning. And pollution is not just from pm. It is also coming from 180 air toxics not regulated or considered in any way yet.

    Ms Nolen also needs to recognize the new safe dose for wildfire and wood smoke that is about 1/4 the safe dose for ambiant mixed pm. The DHHS and EPA and most states do as well as academia with peer reviewed studies of all kinds originating in the tobacco smoke studies that the ALA participated in and championed. If EDF educates the ALA, then Nolen will see the truth. The ALA always has in the past and we need them in the new clean air fight.

  • joy cash

    There is a more immediate threat to our children’s health silently wafting across the US. Radiation from Fukushima. Reported in Pennsylvania!!

    And our own “Fukushima in waiting” San Onofre, built between 2 active earthquake vaults at the center of 8.4 million reisdents of LA, Orange & San Diego counties. A “50 mile dead zone” radius without any emergency plans in place, as in the event of a nuclear accident, there will not be yime to even evacuste school children.

    Currently shut down because of mismanagement by our “nuclear experts”, there are rods deteriorating and backup systems that are just now being reported to NRC as inoperatable for decades. 6 employee whistleblowers have come forward citing safety issues & San Onofre has the worst safety record of the entire US nuclear industry!

    Please help us shut these plants down permanently. Time is of the essence we cannot control Fukushima’s radiation but we can control San Onofre’s.

    Kindly write your local, state & federal representatives to act on behalf of our children.