Santa Cruz County Air Quality Rated Among The Best In The Nation

(April 28, 2010)

Silicon Valley Mercury News

April 28, 2010

SANTA CRUZ - The air in Santa Cruz County is among the cleanest in the nation, according to a report released Wednesday by the American Lung Association.

That's good news for thousands of residents with asthma, bronchitis and cardiovascular disease whose health can be put at risk due to air pollution.

The State of the Air 2010 report reviewed data from more than 600 counties for 2006, 2007 and 2008 on days with high ozone, also known as smog, and particle pollution along with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data on annual particle pollution.

Santa Cruz County did not have any high ozone days, scoring an A along with 48 other counties.

In addition, Santa Cruz County had no days with high levels of particle pollution, earning an A along with 113 other counties, and tied for 25th for its low level of year-round particle pollution.

The counties with the cleanest air tended to be coastal, like Mendocino County, or rural, like Billings and Mercer in North Dakota. In contrast, but Santa Clara County, where many local residents commute to work, rated an F in ozone and 24-hour particle pollution.

The local score is an improvement over a year ago when the county rated an A in particle pollution but didn't get an ozone grade owing to incomplete data.

Local air quality is monitored by the Monterey Bay Area Unified Air Pollution Control District.

"We have good communication," said Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency spokeswoman Beth Landes, noting coordination takes place when concerns arise, such as during the fires of 2009.

The Lung Association reported progress in Pittsburgh and Cleveland thanks to cleaner diesel fuels and fewer emissions from coal-fired power plants but Fresno and Modesto in California's Central Valley had more 24-hour particle pollution than before.

Los Angeles rated worst for ozone, Phoenix was most polluted by year-round particle pollution and Bakersfield had the most days of 24-hour particle pollution.

Ozone is the most widespread air pollutant, forming when nitrogen oxide gases and volatile organic compounds like vapors from gasoline combine in the hot sun.

"When you inhale ozone, it irritates your lungs, leaving them with something like a bad sunburn," said Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. "It causes health problems the day you breathe it in, and even days after. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and even shorten your life."

Particle pollution results when tiny specks of soot, dust and aerosols are suspended in the air.

"People with heart or lung diseases, children and older adults are the most likely to be affected by particle pollution exposure," Edelman said. "Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing. It also causes irregular heartbeat, heart attacks and even premature death in people with heart or lung disease."