American Lung Association State of the Air 2014 Shows

Evidence warns that changing climate will make it harder to protect human health

(April 30, 2014)


The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2014 report released today shows that Wisconsin has cut year-round particle pollution (soot) levels significantly compared to the 2013 report.  This is consistent with a trend seen across the nation of lower particle pollution levels. But the state has also experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone (smog).

Overall, State of the Air 2014 found that nearly half of all Americans live in counties where ozone or particle pollutions levels make the air unhealthy to breathe.  The 15th annual national report card shows that, while the nation continued to reduce particle pollution -- a pollutant recently determined to cause lung cancer -- poor air quality remains a significant public health concern. Additionally, a changing climate is making it harder to protect human health. Especially alarming is that ozone levels, a powerful respiratory irritant and the most widespread air pollutant, were much worse than in the previous year’s report.

“The air in Wisconsin is certainly cleaner than when we started the State of the Air report 15 years ago,” said Linda Witucki, Executive Director for the American Lung Association in Wisconsin.  “The continued reduction of particle pollution is due to cleaner diesel fleets and power plants. However, the increases in unhealthy days of high ozone tell us we still have work to do. Reducing ozone pollution will be particularly challenging because warmer temperatures increase risk for ozone pollution, and climate change sets the stage for higher ozone levels in the future. We must set stronger health standards for pollutants and clean up sources of pollution in Wisconsin to protect the health of our citizens.”

Some key findings from the report which looks at air quality in 2010, 2011 and 2012:

Particle Pollution:

  • Milwaukee had its best levels ever for both annual and short-term particle pollution.
  • Milwaukee Metro Area (includes Milwaukee, Racine, Waukesha, Dodge, Washington, Jefferson, Ozaukee and Walworth Counties) had the best year-round levels ever for particle pollution with slightly improved levels in 2010-2012.  The area also had the best short-term levels ever in 2010-2012 with slightly improved levels.
  • Waukesha County, the most polluted county in the metro area for year-round levels, slightly improved its level.  The levels continue the gradual decline from a high of 2005-2007.
  • Brown County, which monitored the most particle pollution in the metro area, significantly cut its weighted average to 4.0 days (an F) from 6 days in 2009-2011. 
  • Brown County also reported a drop in year-round levels, to 9.6 µg/m3 in 2010-2012 from 10.4 µg/m3 in 2009-2011. This level meets the national air quality standard.

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). Particle pollution can penetrate deep into the lungs and even into the bloodstream, leading to premature deaths, asthma attacks and heart attacks, as well as lung cancer.

Ozone:

  • LaCrosse, Onalaska, WI Rapids, Stevens Point and Wisconsin Rapids had 0 violations for ozone, earning them a spot on the report’s list of Cleanest Cities.
  • Ashland County also had no violations for either ozone or particle pollution.
  • The Kenosha metro area (including northing Illinois) suffered worse ozone pollution and went from 31st most polluted in 2009-2011 to 20th most polluted in this report. 
  • Sheboygan County ranked tied for 24th most polluted for ozone.  The county suffered worse ozone pollution in 2010-2012, and worsened its ranking from tied for 39th for most polluted in the nation in 2009-2011, putting it into the list of 25 most polluted metro areas in the nation.
  • Sheboygan County experienced a weighted average of 13.8 days (an F) in 2010-2012, up from 6.7 in 2009-2011. This 2010-2012 period has the worse ozone problem since 2005-2007 when there were 17.0 days on average of unhealthy ozone each year.
  • Kewaunee County, which monitored the most ozone pollution in its metro area (includes Brown, Kewaunee, Shawano, Menominee and Oconto counties), had its grade drop from a D in 2013 to an F in this year’s report.  It had more unhealthy days on average at 5.5, up from 2.2 in the 2013 report.
  • Milwaukee County, the most polluted county in the metro area, increased the area’s weighted average to 10.8 days (an F) with unhealthful levels of ozone, up from 4.5 days in last year’s report.  This year's weighted average continues the increase in ozone levels from a low of 3.0 days in 2008-2010.  Ozone levels are still lower than the high of 20.0 days in 1997-1999 and 2001-2003.

Ozone 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. 

“From our first State of the Air report to this most recent one, we have seen that the Clean Air Act delivers significant health benefits,” said Witucki. “However, the past 15 years have also confirmed that air pollution is a more serious threat to our health than we’d previously known.”

The American Lung Association calls for several steps to improve the air everyone breathes:

  • Clean up power plants.  The EPA needs to reduce carbon pollution.  Ozone and particle pollution that blows across state lines must be controlled. In the next year, the Administration has pledged to set standards for carbon pollution from new and existing power plants.
  • Strengthen the outdated ozone standards. The EPA needs to set a strong, health-based standard to limit ozone pollution. Strong standards will drive the needed cleanup of ozone across the nation.
  • Clean up new wood-burning devices. The EPA needs to issue strong standards to clean up new wood stoves, outdoor wood boilers and other residential wood-burning devices.
  • Fund the work to provide healthy air. Congress needs to adequately fund the work of the EPA and the states to monitor and protect the nation from air pollution.
  • Protect the Clean Air Act. Congress needs to ensure that the protections under the Clean Air Act remain strong and enforced.

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

Background
The State of the Air 2014 report uses the most recent quality-assured air pollution data, collected by federal, state and local governments and tribes in 2010, 2011, and 2012.  These data come from official monitors for the two most widespread types of pollution, ozone and particle pollution. The report grades counties, ranking cities and counties based on scores calculated by average number of unhealthy days (for ozone and for short-term particle pollution) and by annual averages (for year-round particle pollution).

2014 SOTA