The organization released its annual State of the Air report today and Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax and the District of Columbia earned an “F” grade for ozone pollution — also known as smog. The D.C. area as a whole ranked as the 9th most-polluted city in the nation for smog, up from 13th last year and 14th in 2011.
The report suggests that the D.C. area has improved in terms of particle pollution in recent years.
“The air in Washington, DC is certainly cleaner than when we started the ‘State of the Air’ report 14 years ago,” said Kimberly Williams, Advocacy and Communications Manager for the American Lung Association, in a press release. “Even though the area experienced increases in unhealthy days of high ozone, the air quality is still better compared to a decade ago. But the work is not done, and we must set stronger health standards for pollutants and cleanup sources of pollution in the D.C. area to protect the health of our citizens.”
The full press release, after the jump.
The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2013” report released today finds that the Washington, DC area has cut year-round particle pollution (soot) levels since the 2012 report, in keeping with a trend seen across the nation. The area also saw fewer days with unhealthy spikes in soot levels.
However, the area has experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone (smog.) The DC metropolitan area ranked as the ninth-most polluted city in the nation for smog, worse than last year’s rank of 13th-most polluted.
“The air in Washington, DC is certainly cleaner than when we started the ‘State of the Air’ report 14 years ago,” said Kimberly Williams, Advocacy and Communications Manager for the American Lung Association. “Even though the area experienced increases in unhealthy days of high ozone, the air quality is still better compared to a decade ago. But the work is not done, and we must set stronger health standards for pollutants and cleanup sources of pollution in the DC area to protect the health of our citizens.”
Looking at air quality in 2009, 2010, and 2011, the city of Washington, DC reduced its year-round particle pollution, earning a passing grade. It also reduced its days of short-term particle pollution, earning a C grade (compared to a D last year) and recording its lowest levels since the “State of the Air” report began. Particle pollution levels can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end (short-term) or remain at unhealthy levels on average every day (year-round).
The city of Washington, DC experienced slightly worse levels of smog than in last year’s report, and once again earned a grade of F for its days of unhealthy levels of ozone. Ozone 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, like a bad sunburn. It can cause immediate health problems that continue days later. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death.
In Virginia, Prince William, Loudoun, and Fairfax Counties all had improved levels of ozone. Arlington’s remained the same, and Alexandria’s worsened from last year’s report. Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax all earned Fs for ozone, but Loudoun improved from an F to a D, and Prince William maintained a C. Loudoun and Fairfax Counties also both reduced their levels of particle pollution.
Despite improvements, the “State of the Air 2013” report found that more than 131.8 million people in the U.S. still live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution, which equates to more than 4 in 10 people (42 percent).
The American Lung Association report reveals that from 2009-2011, many places made strong progress compared to 2008-2010, particularly in lower year-round levels of particle pollution. As a result of emissions reductions from coal-fired power plants and the transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines, air quality is improving, especially in the eastern United States.
“State of the Air 2013” found that six cities had their worst record for short-term days since the data started to be collected.
The Lung Association led the fight for a new, national air quality standard that strengthened outdated limits on annual levels of particle pollution, announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last December. Thanks to air pollution health standards like this, set under the Clean Air Act and the EPA enforcement of these standards, the U.S. has seen continued reductions in air pollution.
Cleaning up major air pollution sources through steps like the cleaner gasoline and cleaner vehicle standards will drastically cut both ozone and particle pollution. That means more health protections for the nearly 132 million people living in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution. Those at greatest risk from air pollution include infants, children, older adults, anyone with lung diseases like asthma, people with heart disease or diabetes, people with low incomes and anyone who works or exercises outdoors.
“The evidence is clear that the Clean Air Act delivers significant health benefits,” said Williams. “Congress needs to continue to ensure that the provisions under the Clean Air Act are protected and are enforced. EPA and every state must have adequate funding to monitor and protect our citizens from air pollution.”
The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2013” report is an annual, national air quality “report card.” The 2013 report—the 14th annual release—uses the most recent quality assured air pollution data, compiled by the EPA, in 2009, 2010, and 2011. These data come from the official monitors for the two most widespread types of pollution, ozone (smog) and particle pollution (PM 2.5, also known as soot). The report grades counties and ranks cities and counties based on their scores for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels.
The American Lung Association in Virginia urges the public to join the fight for clean air and to learn how to protect themselves and their families from air pollution by visiting www.stateoftheair.org.