How Does American Air Quality Fare in 2012?

Air quality has improved in America over the last decade

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

The American Lung Association (ALA) has released their State of the Air for 2012. Is the city you live in one of the best or worst when it comes to air pollution?

The ALA has released a report that evaluates air quality in three major categories. Air pollution was determined by short-term particle pollution (24-hour PM), year-round particle pollution (Annual-PM) and ozone pollution. Particle pollution could be anything in the air, such as work-related dust, traffic-related dust and dirt and general debris. Ozone pollution includes things like smog and general air quality.

Air Quality Trends

According to the ALA, air quality has improved since 2001. In 2010, compared to 2001, ozone pollution has decreased by 13 percent, 24-hour PM has decreased by 28 percent and Annual-PM has decreased by 24 percent.

The numbers for 2012, when compared to 2011, have also shown similar improvements. From 2008-2010, out of the 26 worst cities when it came to 24-hour PM, 13 cities had improved. For ozone pollution, 22 out of 25 cities improved their air quality from 2011.

Annual-PM showed incredible improvements as well, with 23 out of 25 cities improving their 2011 scores. Some of the factors for these improvements include cleaner diesel fuel usage and reduced emissions from power plants that use coal.

The Cleanest Cities Are...

If you want to live in the cleanest city in America, you will have to fly to New Mexico. According to the ALA, Santa Fe-Espanola was the only city that was cleanest for 24-hour PM, Annual-PM and ozone pollution. For the 144,170 inhabitants, congratulations, you are breathing the best air in America!

Santa Fe-Espanola was not the only city to fare well. The five cities of Bismark, ND, Duluth, MN-WI, Honolulu, HI, Port S. Lucie-Sebastian-Vero Beach, FL and Rapid City, SD were among the cleanest cities for Annual-PM and ozone pollution.

For 24-hour PM and ozone pollution, seven cities, four of which are in Illinois, were among the cleanest. The cities are Brownsville-Harlingen-Raymondville, TX, Champaign-Urbana, IL, Decatur, IL, Florence-Muscle Shoals, AL, Monroe-Bastrop, LA, Peoria-Canton, IL and Springfield, IL.

The list of cleanest cities expands when it comes to 24-hour PM and Annual-PM, as there are 15 cities that were among the cleanest. Florida has four cities that made the list and Arizona with three out of the 15. Colorado and Vermont each had two.

The fifteen cities that were among the cleanest when it came to 24-hour PM and Annual-PM are Albuquerque, NM, Bangor, ME, Burlington, VT, Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL, Cheyenne, WY, Claremont-Lebanon, NH-VT, Colorado Springs, CO, Flagstaff, AZ, Fort Collins-Loveland, CO, Gainesville, FL, Palm Bay-MelbourneTitusville, FL, Prescott, AZ, Salinas, CA, Sarasota, FL and Tucson, AZ.

While the numbers have been good, including the recent trend of improving air quality, air pollution is still a concern for the vast majority of Americans.

Air Pollution Across America

Despite the good numbers from a few cities, a large portion of American citizens are living in unhealthy conditions. According to the ALA's findings, 127.2 million Americans are living in counties that have unhealthy levels of 24-hour PM or ozone pollution. That number makes up approximately 41 percent of all Americans being exposed to poor air quality.

Ozone pollution is the greatest concern as it affects 116.7 million Americans. These citizens live in counties who received a “F” grade by the ALA for ozone pollution. This number could be larger, according to the ALA, because it does not account for citizens living in neighboring counties.

Close to 50 million Americans live in one of 66 counties that received a failing grade by the ALA for 24-hour PM. Close to 6.4 million Americans live in a county that received a failing grade by the ALA for Annual-PM.

Approximately 5.7 million Americans live in a county that received failing grades for all three categories by the ALA. These numbers are a concern because it is more than just dirty air, millions of citizens have respiratory problems or are vulnerable to air pollution.

Air Pollution and Respiratory Health

Air pollution is a serious concern for asthma sufferers. Close to 2.5 million children and 7.4 million adults have asthma in America and poor air quality will only worsen their symptoms. Air pollution can make breathing difficult and can trigger asthma attacks. Breathing in dust and debris for years could also affect your lung health.

According to the ALA, 3.1 million American adults and 940,000 children live in a county with high levels of 24-hour PM. More than 382,000 adults and 125,000 children live in counties with high levels of Annual-PM.

Air pollution also affects Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. According to the ALA, 5.3 million Americans with COPD live in a county with had unhealthy ozone levels. More than 2.1 million COPD patients live in a city with high levels of 24-hour PM. Over 200,000 COPD patients live in a county with high levels of Annual-PM.

How to Help Reduce Air Pollution

The numbers are improving, note the ALA, and hopefully the positive trends of the last decade continue. The ALA has several recommendations that citizens can follow to help make sure air quality keeps improving in America.

Americans can do their part in cleaning up air quality by driving less, which could include carpooling on occasion or using mass transit. Using less electricity or using more efficient electronic equipment would also reduce pollution.

Not burning trash or wood, if your county permits it, would also improve air quality. For parents, making sure a child's school bus is eco-friendly can also reduce ozone pollution. Most importantly, volunteering in your community to help clean up pollution can continue the improving air quality trends. 

Review Date: 
May 1, 2012