California air among nation’s dirtiest

McClatchy NewspapersApril 24, 2013 

— California cities, including Modesto, Fresno and Merced, continue to have some of the worst air in the United States, according to the American Lung Association’s "State of the Air 2013" report.

The annual report, which tracks air pollution across the country, ranked Bakersfield as the sootiest city in the country, followed by Merced and Fresno. Modesto was No. 6. Many California cities also ranked high in ozone pollution, particularly in the summer.

The Lung Association report had few surprises for the San Joaquin Valley Air District, said Jaime Holt, a spokeswoman for the public health agency charged with implementing air quality-management strategies for the region.

But Holt also said that the report failed to take into account how far many of their communities have come. There’s been almost $40 billion in investment by industry to improve air quality in recent years, she said, and residents must abide by strict guidelines for both indoor and outdoor fireplaces.

"It’s a top quality of life issue for the people in the valley," Holt said. "We get we have a long way to go."

Air pollution remains a pervasive public health threat across the United States, said Harold Wimmer, national president and CEO of the American Lung Association. More than 131.8 million Americans – about 42 percent of the population – live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution, the report found.

Yet the group’s report also shows that air quality nationwide continues in a long-term trend to much healthier air.

"Even in parts of the country that experienced increases in unhealthy days of high ozone and short-term particle pollution, they still have better air quality compared to a decade ago," Wimmer said in a statement.

The report found that compared with last year, many places made strong progress in lower year-round levels of particle pollution. The report suggests that’s a direct result of transitioning to cleaner diesel fuels and engines and reduced emissions from coal-fired power plants, especially in the eastern United States.

The association will urge the Obama administration to take action in the next year, including establishing standards to reduce tailpipe and smokestack pollution.

The Lung Association report came out the same day that the California Environmental Protection Agency released the nation’s first comprehensive statewide environmental health screening tool. Known as CalEnviroScreen 1.0, the tool allows people to see how much pollution they have in their communities and who is most vulnerable to its effects.

The tool uses data from about 11 types of pollution and environmental factors and seven population characteristics and socioeconomic factors to create scores for each ZIP code in California. The agency says it will help state decision-makers figure out which communities need target grants, investments, cleanup efforts and enforcement actions, particularly in the state’s most disadvantaged communities.

Email: ebolstad@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @erikabolstad

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