My Air Gets An F

BY ON April 30, 2013

CArtoon with caption "Mom says our state's air got a failing grade so we can't go out and play with it."

You don’t want to see a bad grade on your child’s report card, but does the air she breathes pass the test? Is your family, like mine, among the 42 percent of Americans who live in places where the air itself is dangerous to breathe, according to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2013?

The report states that overall air quality has improved since 2000 – thanks to the Clean Air Act and those who fight to preserve it – but more than 131 million people (an increase from 2012) breathe air that gets a failing grade. That includes 32.3 million children.

Areas are graded on ozone pollution and two measures of soot or particle pollution. Eight percent, including six million children, live in areas that receive all F’s.

In my first blog post for Moms Clean Air Force, I told you that my city of Evansville, Indiana is surrounded by 17 coal-fired power plants. The stacks of one coal plant are actually visible from the child care center where I will be enrolling my daughter when she turns two in July.

My county gets a D for ozone and an F for annual average particulate pollution. By the latter measure, Evansville is #26 – just shy of making the list of 25 Most Polluted Cities. We get a B for short-term spikes in particulate pollution.

That bucks the national trend that emerges in this year’s report. The greatest improvements have been made in annual particle pollution, while ozone and short-term measures of particulate pollution have gotten worse.

Those spikes in particulate are deadly. According to the ALA State of the Air:

First and foremost, short-term exposure to particle pollution can kill. Peaks or spikes in particle pollution can last for hours to days. Deaths can occur on the very day that particle levels are high, or within one to two months afterward. Particle pollution does not just make people die a few days earlier than they might otherwise—these are deaths that would not have occurred if the air were cleaner.”

Breathing particulate day in and day out as we do in Evansville is no good for you, either.

Chronic exposure to particle pollution can shorten life by one to three years. Other impacts range from premature births to serious respiratory disorders, even when the particle levels are very low.”

Nearly four in 10 people live in areas with unhealthful levels of ozone, the most wide-spread pollutant that causes respiratory and cardiovascular problems and premature death.

In response to these threats, the ALA recommends that we drive less, stop burning wood and use less electricity. But the major source of pollution in our region isn’t cars or wood – it’s the multiple coal-fired power plants that surround us. And we don’t use much of the electricity they generate – it’s exported to customers in other states.

We must rely on federal enforcement of clean air rules to protect us.

Because of federal efforts, those smoke stacks visible from my daughter’s childcare center are cleaner than they were in 2000. In anticipation of more stringent rules, the utility provider that operates that coal plant has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in reducing emissions.

It’s a small step that wouldn’t have been taken without federal enforcement of the Clean Air Act and other clean air rules to protect our health. But we must work to safeguard and strengthen those rules. And we must fight to improve our report cards.

Cartoon: Liza Donnelly

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TOPICS: Clean Air Act, Clean Air Rules and Regulations, Climate Change, Coal, Pollution, Soot