American Lung Association releases ‘State of the Air’ report

More than 96% of CT residents live in counties with failing air quality

The American Lung Association’s 2017 “State of the Air” report found 7 out of 8 reporting counties have earned overall failing grades for ozone, one of the most common forms of hazardous air pollution.

In fact, Fairfield County is the #17 most ozone-polluted county in the nation and the only one from the Northeast included in the list of the 25 most polluted counties in the country. New Haven County ranks #35 and Middlesex County ranks #39. These three are the only eastern counties on the list for the top 40 most polluted.

“These grades show that Connecticut still suffers from being the ‘tailpipe of the nation’ for ozone,” said Jeff Seyler, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “While the 2017 ‘State of the Air’ report found that 40% of Americans, nationwide, still live with unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution placing their health at risk — that percentage is more than doubled here, resulting in the overwhelming majority of Connecticut residents breathing in harmful air.  The report clearly shows that people from Fairfield to Tolland County are at risk of breathing in unhealthful levels of ozone, putting them at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, worsened COPD symptoms and cardiovascular harm.”

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 Connecticut.

Ozone pollution in CT

Compared to the 2016 report, Fairfield County, the most polluted county in the New York City metro area, had a weighted average of 24.0 days with unhealthful levels of ozone in 2013-2015, fewer than the 24.3 days in 2012-2014. However, it still is higher than the 21.2 days on average recorded in 2009-2011.

In addition, Hartford moved onto the most ozone-polluted cities list, despite having cleaner air, ranking #21 on that list for the first time.

“Ozone is harmful to public health and especially children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases. When they breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room,” said David G. Hill, MD and Chair-Elect of the Board of the American Lung Association of the Northeast.

Nationwide, ozone pollution has decreased, thanks to the Clean Air Act’s success at cleaning up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles. However, research shows that climate change causes warmer temperatures, which makes ozone harder to clean up.

Particle pollution in CT

Contrary to Connecticut’s troubling grades on ozone, the “State of the Air” 2017 found continued low levels of year-round particle pollution (soot) levels in Connecticut during 2013-2015, a likely results of ongoing steps under the Clean Air Act: cleaning up power plants and retiring old, dirty diesel engines. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution, while in the Northeast region, short-term particle spikes continue to be less of a problem.

Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel engines, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes. They can even cause lung cancer, and early death.

“Across the country, year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines,” said Ruth Canovi, Director of Public Policy in Connecticut for the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “While we continue to struggle with ozone pollution, we are glad to see Connecticut’s particle pollution have been drastically reduced due to regional and local legislative action.”

Short-term spikes in particle pollution can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. According to the 2017 report, Hartford and Litchfield counties had the fewest days when short-term particle pollution has reached unhealthy levels in 2013-2015, compared to other Connecticut counties.

“Healthy air protections are under attack, and must be defended to save lives here and across the country. Air travels from one state to another, so only federal protections can help protect the air we all breathe,” said Seyler. “The Lung Association in Connecticut calls on President Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and members of Congress to fully fund, implement and enforce the Clean Air Act for all air pollutants — including those that drive climate change and make it harder to ensure healthy air for all Americans.”

“We are calling on the Connecticut General Assembly to prioritize healthy air this session by investing in renewable energy, protecting the Regional Greenhouse Gas initiative, encouraging the use of electric vehicles and overall reducing emissions from polluting sources,” said Canovi.

Learn more about Connecticut rankings, as well as air quality across the nation in the 2017 “State of the Air” report at Lung.org/sota.

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