American Lung Association “State of the Air 2013” Report Finds No Air Quality Improvement in Chicago/Cook County

(April 24, 2013)

Chicago/Cook County Bucks National Trend of Improvement

Chicago, IL — The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2013” report released today finds that Chicago/Cook County has not cut year-round particle pollution (soot) levels since the 2012 report, in contradiction to a trend seen across the nation. Along with the lack of improvement in annual particle pollution, Chicago/Cook County has experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone (smog).  Chicago ranked as the 16th-most polluted city in the nation for short term particle pollution, a worse ranking than last year’s report.  Overall however, “State of the Air 2013” shows that the air quality nationwide continues the long-term trend to much healthier air.

Looking at air quality in 2009, 2010, and 2011, Chicago’s air pollution shows up in Cook County, which remained the same in its year-round particle pollution, although, given new particle standards now received a failing grade. Cook County received an F for short-term particle pollution, because of too many days of unhealthy particle levels. Particle pollution levels can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end (short-term) or remain at unhealthy levels on average every day (year-round).

“State of the Air 2013” also finds that ozone levels in Cook County worsened, resulting in an F grade. Ozone (smog) is the most widespread air pollutant, created by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other sources. When ozone is inhaled, it irritates the lungs, like a bad sunburn. It can cause immediate health problems that continue days later. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death. 

“The air in Chicago is certainly cleaner than when we started the ‘State of the Air’ report 14 years ago,” said Mike Kolleng/Manager of the Healthy Air Campaign.  “Even though Chicago experienced increases in unhealthy days of high ozone, the air quality is still better compared to a decade ago.  But the work is not done, and we must set stronger health standards for pollutants and cleanup sources of pollution in Chicago to protect the health of our citizens.” 

Despite improvements, the “State of the Air 2013” report found that more than 131.8 million people in the U.S. still live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution, which equates to more than 4 in 10 people (42 percent).
 
The American Lung Association report reveals that from 2009-2011, many places made strong progress compared to 2008-2010, particularly in lower year-round levels of particle pollution.  As a result of emissions reductions from coal-fired power plants and the transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines, air quality is improving, especially in the eastern United States. 

The Lung Association led the fight for a new, national air quality standard that strengthened outdated limits on annual levels of particle pollution, announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last December.  Thanks to air pollution health standards like this, set under the Clean Air Act and the EPA enforcement of these standards, the U.S. has seen continued reductions in air pollution.

Cleaning up major air pollution sources through steps like the cleaner gasoline and cleaner vehicle standards will drastically cut both ozone and particle pollution.  That means more health protections for the nearly 132 million people living in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution. Those at greatest risk from air pollution include infants, children, older adults, anyone with lung diseases like asthma, people with heart disease or diabetes, people with low incomes and anyone who works or exercises outdoors.

“Nationally, the evidence is clear that the Clean Air Act delivers significant health benefits,” said Mike Kolleng. “Congress needs to continue to ensure that the provisions under the Clean Air Act are protected and are enforced.  EPA and every state must have adequate funding to monitor and protect our citizens from air pollution.”

The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2013” report is an annual, national air quality “report card.” The 2013 report—the 14th annual release—uses the most recent quality assured air pollution data, compiled by the EPA, in 2009, 2010, and 2011.  These data come from the official monitors for the two most widespread types of pollution, ozone (smog) and particle pollution (PM 2.5, also known as soot). The report grades counties and ranks cities and counties based on their scores for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels.

The American Lung Association in Illinois urges the public to join the fight for clean air and to learn how to protect themselves and their families from air pollution by visiting www.stateoftheair.org.