The annual American Lung Association study says about 159 million
Americans, or 55 percent of the country, reside in 441 counties threatened
by air that's heavily polluted with ozone or tiny particles of soot, known
as particle matter.
California has a majority of the top 10 worst-polluted counties. The Los
Angeles metropolitan area placed at the top for most ozone pollution for the
fifth consecutive year.
The Houston and Knoxville, Tenn., areas ranked fifth and ninth,
According to the report, San Bernardino ranked number one among counties
nationwide in ozone pollution. Riverside County had the nation's worst
annual and short-term particle matter pollution.
Overall, 34 of California's 58 counties failed one or more of three clean
air tests in the study.
Janice Nolen, the association's director of national policy, said strides
have been made to cut pollution, particularly ozone contamination, but many
people remain at risk for smog-related illnesses like asthma, cardiovascular
disease and lung inflammation.
"We still have a serious air pollution problem across the country. It's
cleaner ... but it's not clean enough," Nolen said.
Ozone pollution occurs when hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides — released
when fossil fuels burn or chemicals evaporate — combine with heat and
Particle pollutants can come from fireplaces, autos and agriculture. They
can lodge deep in the lungs, contributing to heart problems and sometimes
leading to death over longer periods of exposure.
Industry representatives counter that cleaner burning engines are helping
The Environmental Protection Agency said its own analysis, to be released
next month, shows ozone levels were down significantly across the country,
with many areas seeing their lowest concentrations since 1980.
"You wouldn't realize we have made such incredible progress in reducing
pollution from this report," said Joel Schwartz, a visiting fellow at the
American Enterprise Institute.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Almost 100 million people in 21 U.S. states
breathe unhealthy levels of tiny particles spewed by coal-burning power
plants, cars and factories, the Environmental Protection Agency said on
EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt notified governors from mostly Eastern
states plus California that 243 counties do not comply with an agency
proposal to limit emissions of the extremely tiny particles.
The particles, 28 times smaller than the width of a human hair, are
linked to premature death from heart and lung disease, as well as chronic
bronchitis and asthma.
Action on particulates, which Leavitt puts at the top of his air quality
agenda, is the next regulatory step after the EPA designated them as a
pollutant in 1997.
"There is nothing we can accomplish that will increase the health of our
air than decreasing concentrations of (particulate matter)," Leavitt told
The EPA action sets in motion a process where states must submit plans to
reduce particulate emissions by early 2008, with compliance required in the
2010-2015 time frame.
Partial attainment of the standards in 2010 could prevent 15,000
premature deaths, according to agency analysis.
Tiny particles come from a wide array of sources ranging from cars and
trucks to wood-burning stoves, forest fires, power plants and factories.
In Eastern states, the majority of the pollution comes from coal-burning
power plants. In California, which has no coal facilities, most is from cars
Environmentalists said EPA's rules won't lead to fast enough reductions
in particulate emissions from the nation's 1,100 coal-burning power plants,
the largest single source.
"EPA needs to take swift action to cut the dangerous pollution from power
plant smokestacks or millions of Americans will be left gasping for clean
air," said Vickie Patton, an attorney at Environmental Defense.
EPA's plan to cut utility emissions by 70 percent by 2015 will mark one
of the most productive periods in U.S. air-quality improvements, Leavitt
"This is not about the air getting dirtier," Leavitt said. "It's about
the air getting cleaner and our standards getting tougher."
There is no outright penalty for noncompliance, but states that fail to
submit plans could lose federal transportation funds, Leavitt said.
State governors had asked EPA to designate 141 counties as non-compliant,
far short of the 243 EPA named in a preliminary list it will finalize in
The EPA found non-compliant counties in the following states plus the
District of Columbia: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia,
Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New
Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia,
West Virginia, and Wisconsin.