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Report: Polluted air reaching more Americans


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- More Americans are living with unhealthy air, according to a new report from the American Lung Association.

"The air is dirty nationwide. The smog problem is pervasive," said the ALA's Paul Billings.

The report, titled "The State of the Air 2001," draws on Environmental Protection Agency data on ground-level ozone for the years 1997 to 1999, the most recent, complete "quality-controlled" data the EPA has available.

Since last year's report -- which looked at data for 1996 to 1998 -- the ALA says, the numbers of Americans living in areas that received a grade of "F" for ozone pollution increased from 132 million to 141 million.


The study also looked at the EPA's Air Quality Index and noted a 25 percent rise in "orange" days -- when the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups -- and an 11 percent increase in "red" days -- when the air is unhealthy for all. "Purple" days -- very unhealthy -- dipped slightly.

The report said the hot summer weather of 1999 contributed to the amount of ozone in many parts of the country.

Ozone is formed when certain types of pollution -- hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides -- react to sunlight. Principal sources of these pollutants are tailpipe emissions, power plants and certain kinds of factories. Ground-level ozone is the main component in smog. The terms often are used interchangeably.

Ozone is a particular risk for people with asthma and other respiratory ailments. Children, the elderly and people who exercise outdoors also tend to be at a greater risk. For healthy adults, excessive exposure to ozone can cause shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and chest pain.

According to the ALA report, the 10 metro areas with the worst ozone pollution are ranked in order: Los Angeles, California; Bakersfield, California; Fresno, California; Visalia, California; Houston, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; Washington/Baltimore, Maryland; Charlotte, North Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The report also lists 12 cities that had no days with unhealthy ozone levels. From the biggest to the smallest in terms of population, these are: Honolulu, Hawaii; the McAllen, Texas, area; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Des Moines, Iowa; Spokane, Washington; Salinas, California; the Duluth, Minnesota, area; Lincoln, Nebraska; Laredo, Texas; the Fargo, North Dakota, area; Bellingham, Washington; and Flagstaff, Arizona.

The report is available at

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American Lung Association
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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