State of the Air Report: Despite Progress, 4 in 10 Americans at Risk from Air Pollution

Despite continued improvement in U.S. air quality, local residents remain at risk from health effects of unhealthy air

The American Lung Association's 2017 "State of the Air" report finds that 4 in 10 Americans live in counties with unhealthful levels of air pollution, putting them at risk for premature death and other serious health effects like lung cancer, asthma attacks cardiovascular damage and developmental and reproductive harm. This 18th annual national air quality report found that, thanks to the success of the Clean Air Act, the United States has experienced continued improvements in both ozone pollution and year-round particle pollution. However, increased spikes in particle pollution have offset some of those gains, and further progress may be made more difficult by warmer temperatures related to climate change.

The “State of the Air” report found that while Maricopa County failed for ozone and particle pollution, levels of pollution in the area have improved. While the county’s levels of annual particle pollution meet the national standard, Maricopa earned Fs for high levels of ozone and short-term particle pollution. Compared to last year’s report, Phoenix bettered its ranking on the most-polluted cities in the nation for year-round and short-term particle pollution lists, coming in at 47 and 24, respectively. In ozone pollution, Phoenix kept the same ranking as last year, No. 5, but the average number of unhealthy days improved from last year’s report.

Across Arizona, Tucson improved its rankings for both year-round particle and ozone pollution, tying at 80th and 71st, respectively, for most polluted. Santa Cruz County, though, received an F in short-term particle pollution and Tucson moved up in the most-polluted rankings to 26.

The most notable national findings of the 18th annual report were lower overall ozone levels and lower year-round particle levels, offset by a continued trend of extreme short-term spikes in particle pollution, often related to wildfires or droughts. The report finds that the health of 43 million people across the country are at risk from these dangerous spikes in particle pollution.

Each year the “State of the Air” reports on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution (smog) and particle pollution (soot). The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and can be lethal. But the trends reported in this year’s report, which covers data collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2013-2015, are strikingly different for these pollutants, nationwide, and in Phoenix.

For a complete look at Arizona's State of the Air 2017 report card and a breakdown of pollution by county, click here.


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