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Report: No part of U.S. immune from dirty air

Children with asthma are at greater risk of health problems due to pollution  

Some communities graded 'F' for ozone levels

May 23, 2000
Web posted at: 7:44 p.m. EDT (2344 GMT)

In this story:

California not alone in bad air

At risk: Millions of all ages


LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- The American Lung Association said Tuesday that more than 132 million Americans could be at risk for health problems because they live in communities graded "F" for their dangerously high smog levels.

 U.S. metropolitan areas with best/worst ozone air pollution record
1 Bellingham, WA
2 Cedar Rapids, IA
3 Colorado Springs, CO
4 Des Moines, IA
5 Duluth, MN
6 Fargo-Moorhead, ND
7 Flagstaff, AZ
8 Honolulu, HI
9 Laredo, TX
10 Lincoln, NE

1 Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County, CA
2 Bakersfield, CA
3 Fresno, CA
4 Visalia-Tulare-Porterville, CA
5 Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, TX
6 San Diego-Imperial County, CA
7 Washington, DC/Baltimore, MD
8 Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC
9 Atlanta, GA
10 Merced, CA

Source: American Lung Association

Click here for more details

The Los Angeles metropolitan area was listed as having the worst ozone, created when hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides in vehicle and industrial emissions are heated by the sun.

But even much smaller communities -- such as Visalia, Tulare and Porterville in central California -- also received an "F" in a national grading system used by the association to compile its "State of the Air 2000" report.

"Hospital emergency room visits for respiratory problems, like asthma, go up almost in lock step with the amount the ozone levels have gone up," says Rich Varenchik of the California Air Resources Board.

California not alone in bad air

Nationwide, 120 localities received an "F," meaning they experienced 10 or more days of unhealthy air over a three-year period ending in 1998.

Six of the top 10 places with the worst ozone record were in California. But as the report points out, communities receiving an "F" are scattered throughout the country.

"In the Rocky Mountain and Southwest areas, where Easterners once flocked because of its then-pristine air, Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Houston are clouded with smog," it says.

Rich Varenchik
Listen to Rich Varenchik of the California Air Resources Board talk about air pollution and how it increases health problems in the community (Audio 129 K/12 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)  

"The same is true of Boston in New England; New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington in the Mid-Atlantic; Charlotte, Atlanta and Birmingham in the South; Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Chicago in the Midwest; and a dozen or so areas of California, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. Only in the Pacific Northwest is the situation less grim," the report says.

At risk: Millions of all ages

Bellingham, Washington, headed the list of metropolitan areas graded "A" for having the best record on ozone pollution. Among the others in that category, only Honolulu has a population greater than half a million.

Of the more than 132 million Americans living in areas whose air quality failed, the lung association says:

  •  About 16 million are over 65
  •  Over 7 million are asthmatics (5 million adults and 2 million children with asthma)
  •  29 million are children under age 14
  •  7 million are adults with chronic bronchitis

How the grading was done
The American Lung Association counted the number of days that a county or metropolitan area had unhealthy smog levels in 1996, 1997 and 1998, the most recent years for which Environmental Protection Agency figures are available.

"Ozone smog represents the single most challenging pollution problem the country is facing," says Dave Cohen of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA enacted stricter ozone standards in 1997, but business groups ranging from trucking companies to electric utilities sued, which blocked enforcement.

The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday it would hear arguments on the clean air standards and issue a decision during its term beginning in October.

Correspondent Greg LaMotte contributed to this report

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American Lung Association
  •  State of the Air 2000
Environmental Protection Agency
  •  Air pages

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