Wyoming Air Quality Mixed, Parts of State Need Improvement, Finds American Lung Association’s 2015 ‘State of the Air’ Report
(April 30, 2015)
The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2015” report released today shows that some areas of Wyoming have dangerous levels of ozone and short-term particle pollution. This endangers respiratory health, especially in vulnerable populations like small children and the elderly.
As in last year’s report, Sublette County is an area of concern in this year’s “State of the Air” report, which analyzes data collected from 2011-2013. Paralleling results of the 2014 report, Sublette received an “F” grade for ozone, with 13 days on record showing dangerous levels of ozone in the air. Three of those days are in the Purple category, which is most dangerous to respiratory health. Sublette also received a failing grade for short-term particle pollution (soot) levels.
The State of Wyoming has responded to Sublette County’s air pollution concerns by strengthening air quality requirements governing oil and gas development. Proposed regulations governing existing oil and gas operations are scheduled to be heard by the Wyoming Environmental Quality Council in May, with the hope that these rules are finalized, expeditiously implemented, and result in further reductions of unhealthy emissions.
Some of Wyoming’s more populous regions showed positive results: Casper ranked third best in the nation for its low year-round particle pollution levels and Cheyenne reported no unhealthy days of ozone. Reports on ozone pollution levels were generally positive in the rest of the state, with the data collection areas of Big Horn, Carbon, Laramie, Sweetwater, Teton and Uinta all earning “A” grades and reporting no days of unhealthy ozone levels in 2011-2013. Albany, Campbell, Fremont and Natrona earned “B” grades.
As scientific understanding of ozone’s impact on human health has increased, however, so too have concerns about exposure to this pollution at lower levels once considered safe. Today, the research shows that the current standard is woefully inadequate to protect human health, and a much stronger standard is needed. EPA is currently considering adopting a more protective ozone standard to better reflect this science.
Nationwide, more than 4 in 10 Americans – nearly 138.5 million people – live in counties where ozone or particle pollution levels make the air unhealthy to breathe, according to “State of the Air 2015.” The 16th annual national report card, which looks at air pollution data collected from 2011-2013, shows that improvement in the nation’s air quality was mixed, 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.
“Despite Wyoming’s natural beauty and lack of a major metropolitan area, it still has air quality concerns,” said Ronni Flannery, Healthy Air Director for the American Lung Association in Wyoming. “Areas of the state like Sublette County, with a higher frequency of poor ozone days and short-term air pollution, continue to be a cause for concern, especially for those with lung disease like asthma or COPD.”
“Reducing emissions of air pollutants from oil and natural gas operations is crucial to minimizing health impacts to Wyoming citizens,” said Flannery. “With oil and gas development increasing in parts of the state with inadequate regulation of air emissions from these sources, there is a very real possibility that the sort of air quality concerns plaguing the Upper Green River Basin could surface elsewhere in the state. Because of the dangers of oil and gas emissions – harmful on their own and also as precursors of deadly ozone pollution – the American Lung Association in Wyoming, as well as other Wyoming health and medical organizations, are urging the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to develop oil and gas air quality regulations on a statewide basis.”
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). Particle pollution can penetrate deep into the lungs and even 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.
“Reducing pollution will only become more challenging because warmer temperatures increase the risk for ozone and particle pollution, and make cleaning up the air harder in the future,” added Flannery. “EPA must move forward to fully implement the Clean Air Act for all pollutants that threaten public health, including finalizing a strong Clean Power Plan to limit carbon pollution from power plants and stronger ozone air quality standards. Congress must also ensure that the provisions under the Clean Air Act are protected, implemented and enforced. The EPA and every state must have adequate funding to monitor and protect our citizens from air pollution and new threats caused by increased temperatures.”
More Safeguards Needed to Protect Health
The American Lung Association calls for several steps to safeguard the air everyone breathes:
• Strengthen the outdated ozone standards. The EPA must adopt an up-to-date ozone limit that follows the current health science and the law to protect human health. Strong standards will drive much needed cleanup of ozone pollution across the nation.
• Adopt a strong final Clean Power Plan. The EPA needs to issue tough final requirements to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.
• Protect the Clean Air Act. Congress needs to ensure that the protections under the Clean Air Act remain effective and enforced. States should not be allowed to “opt out” of Clean Air Act protections.
• 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.
To see how your community ranks in “State of the Air 2015,” to learn how to protect yourself and your family from air pollution, and to join the fight for healthy air, visit: www.StateOfTheAir.org.
The American Lung Association “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).