Annual State of the Air Report Finds Mixed Air Quality Results in Montana

(April 25, 2012)

CONTACT:  Carrie Nyssen

American Lung Association’s Annual State of the Air Report Finds Mixed Air Quality Results in Montana
Positive Air Quality Trends Continue Nationwide, Despite Efforts to Weaken Clean Air Protections

Editors’ Note: Trend charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades are available at

Helena, MT — The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2012 report finds that in America’s most polluted cities, air quality was at its cleanest since the organization’s annual report began 13 years ago. Montana received mixed grades for ozone (smog) and particle pollution (soot). On a positive note, Flathead and Richland counties are among the cleanest for short-term particle pollution, and Flathead County is also one of the cleanest counties for ozone pollution.

“State of the Air shows that we’re making steady progress in cutting dangerous pollution from the air as a result of cleanup efforts required under the Clean Air Act,” said Renée Klein, President and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mountain Pacific. “But millions of Americans across the country, including Lewis and Clark and Silver Bow county residents, are still forced to breathe unhealthy levels of air pollution.” 

This year’s report shows that standards set under the Clean Air Act to cleanup major air pollution sources—including coal-fired power plants, diesel engines, and SUVs—are working to drastically reduce ozone and particle pollution. Despite the improvements, the job of cleaning the air is not finished.
 More than 40 percent of people in the United States live in areas where air pollution continues to threaten their health.
 That means more than 127 million people are living in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution that can cause wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death.
 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.

Montana’s air pollution problem shows up in Lewis and Clark, Ravalli and Silver Bow counties, all which received an “F” for short-term particle pollution. 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).  Natural events such as wildfires and human-caused pollution (e.g. residential wood smoke and vehicle use) both contribute to short-term particle pollution levels.

“Particle pollution can be deadly,” said Robert Merchant M.D. “When you breathe particle pollution, you are inhaling a toxic mix of chemicals, metals, aerosols, ash, and diesel exhaust. It can cause asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, emergency room visits and even premature death. There is absolutely no question regarding the need to protect public health from particle pollution.”

State of the Air 2012 finds that smog levels in Flathead County remained at an “A” grade.  Missoula, Powder River, and Rosebud counties now have ozone monitors which will help collect future data. 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 and continue days later. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death.

Although air quality improvements clearly result from standards put into place under the Clean Air Act, big polluters and some members of Congress continue to propose to dismantle the law. Recent proposals in the Congress have included delaying implementation and blocking enforcement of parts of the law, and limiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to consider all of the scientific evidence regarding the harm to public health. These challenges come despite EPA’s estimate that cutting air pollution through the Clean Air Act will prevent at least 230,000 deaths and save $2 trillion annually by 2020.

“Dangerous and potentially deadly levels of smog and particle pollution continue to affect public health,” said Klein. “Cleanups have resulted in healthier air to breathe for many, but some Montanans and more than 40 percent of our nation are still breathing dangerously polluted air. We must continue to fight for clean air and demand the full implementation of the Clean Air Act.”

The American people support the need for stricter limits on air pollution standards and the authority of the EPA to enforce these standards. A recent bipartisan survey found that about two-thirds of voters (66 percent) favor the EPA updating air pollution standards by setting stricter limits. Nearly three quarters (73 percent) of voters believe the nation does not have to choose between air quality and a strong economy.

State of the Air 2012 grades cities and counties based, in part, on the color-coded Air Quality Index developed by the EPA to alert the public to daily unhealthy air conditions. The 13th annual report uses the most recent, quality-controlled EPA data collected from 2008 through 2010 from official monitors for ozone and particle pollution, the two most widespread types of air pollution. Counties are graded for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels. The report also uses EPA’s calculations for year-round particle levels.

The American Lung Association in Montana 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


About the American Lung Association in Montana
The American Lung Association in Montana is a non-profit, voluntary public health organization, working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease in Montana. Our programs focus on the areas of asthma, clean air, tobacco prevention and lung disease.
For more information about the American Lung Association in Montana or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNG-USA or visit: