American Lung Association "State of the Air 2015" Shows Alaska Air Quality Mixed
(April 30, 2015) -
The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2015” report released today shows air quality measures that vary widely among Alaska’s urban areas, with several areas receiving low grades for dangerous short-term particle pollution.
Fairbanks is an urban area of note in this year’s “State of the Air” report, which has been tracking air quality measures throughout the United States for 16 years. This year’s report analyzed air quality data from 2011-2013. Ranked 9th most polluted city for short-term particle pollution in the country, Fairbanks earned an “F” grade and had its worst year on record, with an increase in its average number of unhealthy particle pollution days from13.8 to 15.5 days. Heavy use of wood-burning stoves has been attributed to increases in unhealthy particle pollution days in Fairbanks and elsewhere in the state.
The Matanuska-Susitna area earned a “D” grade for short-term particle pollution, while Juneau received a “C” and Kenai an “A.” Particle pollution levels have fluctuated since 2000-2002, but have been particularly elevated since 2008-2010. Anchorage received good marks for year-round particle pollution, coming in at 10th cleanest in the nation, and had no reported days of short-term particle pollution.
These varied measurements parallel the mixed results of the national report. More than 4 in 10 Americans – nearly 138.5 million people – now live in counties where ozone or particle pollution levels make the air unhealthy to breathe, according to the 2015 “State of the Air” report. The 16th annual national report card shows that improvement in the nation’s air quality was varied, with many cities experiencing strong improvements, while others suffered increased episodes of unhealthy air, and a few even marked their worst number of unhealthy days since the report began.
“Here in Alaska we’re so connected to the beauty of our state and we like to believe we’re breathing some of the cleanest air in the world, but the evidence shows just how widely air quality varies among our urban areas, depending on the season,” said Marge Stoneking, Executive Director of the American Lung Association in Alaska.
Each year, “State of the Air” analyzes data gathered on particle pollution (both 24-hour and annual) and ozone. 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). Fine particle pollution can penetrate deep into the lungs and cross into the bloodstream where it can lead to premature deaths, asthma attacks and heart attacks, as well as lung cancer.
Ozone is associated with premature death from cardiovascular disease, stroke and respiratory illnesses, as well as damage to the central nervous and reproductive systems. Ozone is created when emissions from combustion processes interact with sunlight and heat. “We don’t have an ozone problem in Alaska simply because our temperatures don’t get high enough. Of course that could change down the road with global warming,” said Stoneking.
This year’s report provides more evidence that a changing climate will make it harder to protect human health from the dangers of air pollution. The impact of climate change is particularly apparent in the western United States, where heat and drought create situations ripe for episodes of high particle pollution, a pollutant recently found to cause lung cancer.
The American Lung Association in Alaska 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.
The “State of the Air 2015” report uses the most recent quality-assured air pollution data, collected by federal, state and local governments and tribes in 2011, 2012, and 2013. 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).