Chicago Air Quality Worsened, Finds 2016 ‘State of the Air’ Report
Despite continued improvement in air quality, local residents remain at risk from health effects of unhealthy air, according to new report from Lung Association
Editor’s Note: Trend charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades are available at stateoftheair.org
(April 20, 2016) - Chicago, IL
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The American Lung Association’s 2016 “State of the Air” report found Chicago ranked as the 21st-most polluted city in the nation for ozone pollution. Compared to the 2015 report, Chicago has seen a significant increase in ozone pollution. Chicago has also experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone (smog). This is in spite of a trend seen across the nation of lower ozone pollution levels.
“The 2016 ‘State of the Air’ report finds unhealthful levels of ozone in Chicago, putting our local citizens at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks and cardiovascular harm.” said Michael Kolleng, Healthy Air Campaign Manager of the American Lung Association in Illinois. “Across the nation, the report found continued improvement in air quality, but more than half of the people in the United States live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution.”
Each year the “State of the Air” reports on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution and particle pollution. The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and can be lethal. But the trends reported in this year’s report, which covers data collected in 2012-2014, are strikingly different for these pollutants nationwide, and also in Chicago. However, due to measurement errors in EPA data, particle pollution data in Illinois were deemed unusable.
“Particle pollution is an important contributor to the exacerbation of lung disease, especially as a trigger for asthma. Particle pollution contributes to missed days of work, school, hospitalizations and premature death. It is important for the public to be well informed of potential health risks, and the absence of this data creates a gap in that transparency. It is especially important since particle pollution has been linked to lung cancer risk,” said Kolleng.
Ozone Pollution in Chicago
Compared to the 2015 report (2011-2013), Chicago experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. The number of “orange” ozone action days increased from 30 in the 2015 report to 42 in the 2016 report. The number of “red” ozone action days increased from six days in the 2015 report to ten days in the 2016 report.
“Ozone is harmful to public health and especially children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” said Kolleng. “When older adults or children with asthma breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room.”
Nationwide, ozone pollution has decreased because of work to clean up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles. However, according to research, climate change causes warmer temperatures, which makes ozone harder to clean up.
Particle Pollution in Chicago
The 2016 report was unable to produce data for Illinois, the second consecutive year where data was deemed unusable. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution.
“Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and can even be lethal,” said Kolleng. “Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped nationwide, and were trending in the right direction in Chicago before the loss of data, thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines.”
The 2016 report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. According to the 2016 report, the nation has fewer days when short-term particle pollution has reached unhealthy levels in 2012-2014.
Increased heat, changes in weather patterns, drought and wildfires are all related to climate change, which has contributed to the extraordinarily high numbers of days with unhealthy particle pollution in some cities. Many of these spikes can be directly linked to weather patterns like drought or to events like wildfires, which are likely to increase because of climate change.
“If we can do more to save lives—we should, and we can,” Kolleng said. “The Lung Association in Illinois calls on Illinois to adopt a strong Clean Power Plan to reduce harmful emissions from power plants that worsen climate change and immediately harm health.”
Learn more about Chicago’s rankings, as well as air quality across Illinois and the nation in the 2016 “State of the Air” report at stateoftheair.org.
About the American Lung Association
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.