Ozone air pollution worse, year-round fine particle pollution levels best ever in Charleston-Huntington-Ashland metro area, finds 2018 ‘State of the Air’ Report
One day with high particle pollution level in Scioto County, OH bumps metro area off “Cleanest Cities in U.S.” list for this measure; Greenup County, KY earns “Cleanest County” title for ozone, according to American Lung Association’s 19th annual air quality report
Updated Trend Charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades are available at Lung.org/sota on April 18, 2018 at 12:01 a.m. EDT.
(April 18, 2018) - CHARLESTON, W.V.
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The American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of the Air” report found that ozone air pollution in the 3-state, 12-county Charleston-Huntington-Ashland, WV-OH-KY metro area and throughout much of the Mid-Atlantic worsened when compared with last year’s report, even as year-round average fine particle pollution levels continued their steady improvement. The “State of the Air” report gives results for three measures of air pollution—days with elevated ozone, and daily and annual values for fine particle pollution.
The large metro area, including eight West Virginia counties, for the fifth year met the current national standard for year-round particle pollution, according to the 19th annual “State of the Air” report. It also marked the ninth consecutive report in which the level for the worst county improved. The metro area ranking continued its steady improvement with respect to others, from 40th worst three years ago, to 60th worst in last year’s report, and now to 69th worst of 187 across the country.
For the five counties monitored for the daily measure of fine particle pollution, all posted passing grades, four of them with “A’s” placing them among the cleanest in the country. But for the first time since the 2014 report, the worst grade was a “B” instead of an “A”—this year for Scioto County, Ohio—with the result that the metro area’s rank worsened from 100th worst last year to 83rd worst of 201 metro areas in the current report.
For ozone, five counties were also monitored, of which two, Boyd County, KY and Lawrence County, OH, led the worsening results. Although the worst grades in the metro area remained “C’s,” and Greenup County, KY even earned its first “A,” placing it among the cleanest in the country, the declines in performance were enough to worsen the metro area’s rank from 84th worst last year to 80th worst of 227 in the current report.
Compared to the 2017 report, the Charleston-Huntington-Ashland, WV-OH-KY metro area has seen a slight increase in unhealthy days for ozone and a continuing gradual improvement in the year-round measure of particle pollution. This is in keeping with trends seen across the nation for both higher ozone and lower particle pollution levels than in last year’s report. In the case of year-round particle pollution, the metro area posted its 9th consecutive improvement in its worst county’s level since the 2009 report.
“The 2018 ‘State of the Air’ report finds that unhealthful levels of ozone in the Charleston-Huntington-Ashland, WV-OH-KY metro area put our citizens at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks and greater difficulty breathing for those living with a lung disease such as COPD. As long as there are many days with high ozone levels, people with lung diseases such as asthma will continue to need medical attention,” said Kevin Stewart, Director of Environmental Health, American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. “Across the nation, the report found continued improvement in air quality, but still, more than four in 10 Americans – 133.9 million – live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution, where their health is at risk.”
The trends in this year’s report, which covers data collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2014-2016, confirm the ongoing challenges to reduce each pollutant in the changing political and outdoor climate.
“We can and should do more to save lives,” Stewart said. “The American Lung Association in West Virginia calls on our members of Congress to defend the Clean Air Act, currently under threat from those who want to weaken this effective public health law. We also call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement and enforce the law instead of trying to roll back major safeguards such as the Clean Power Plan and cleaner cars, both steps that help us fight climate change and reduce air pollution.”
For 19 years, “State of the Air” has provided a report card on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution, also known as smog, and particle pollution, also called soot. 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 increase the risk of premature death and other serious health effects such as lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.
Ozone Pollution in the Charleston-Huntington-Ashland, WV-OH-KY metro area
Compared to the 2017 report, the Charleston-Huntington-Ashland, WV-OH-KY metro area experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. Boyd County, KY and Lawrence County, OH both led the group of five monitored counties with a few more days of poor air quality, yet retained their “C” grades. Cabell County, WV joined them with a “C” of its own, worsening from last year’s “B.” Kanawha County posted the same results as last year and retained its “C” grade. Only Greenup County, KY showed improvement, earning its first ever “A” after posting a “B” in last year’s report, and an “F” two years ago.
“Ozone especially harms children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” said Stewart. “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. Ozone can even shorten life itself.”
This report documents how warmer temperatures brought by climate change make ozone more likely to form and harder to clean up. This year’s report also revealed that ozone levels increased in most cities nationwide, in large part due to warmer temperatures in 2016, the second hottest year on record in the U.S. Over the past decades, ozone pollution has decreased nationwide because the nation has cleaned up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles.
Particle Pollution in the Charleston-Huntington-Ashland, WV-OH-KY metro area
The 2018 report also found year-round particle pollution levels were distinctly lower than in the 2017 report, and all were much better than the national air quality standard. Even the metro area’s worst value (posted in Kanawha County, WV) represented that county’s ninth consecutive year of improvement. Indeed, all five counties monitored for this measure showed improvement to their best ever results. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution.
“Particle pollution is made of soot, chemicals, and 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 Stewart. “Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines.”
“State of the Air” 2018 also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. According to the 2018 report, Boyd County, KY, Lawrence County, OH, and Cabell and Kanawha Counties, WV had zero days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels in 2014-2016, and continued their streaks among the nation’s cleanest counties for at least the fourth straight year. Unfortunately, Scioto County, OH, which had previously had a run of six straight “A’s,” had one day in 2016 when its ozone level was unhealthy for sensitive groups, resulting in a “B” grade, and dropping the metro area from the list of “Cleanest Cities in the U.S.” for this pollutant.
In other areas of the country, many of the daily spikes fine particle pollution were directly linked to weather patterns such as drought or to events such as wildfires, which are likely to increase because of climate change. In some localities, high emissions from wood-burning devices have also been a factor.
While the report examined data from 2014-2016, this 19th annual report provides online information on air pollution trends back to the first report covering 1996-1998. Learn more about West Virginia rankings, as well as air quality in the 3-state, 12-county Charleston-Huntington-Ashland, WV-OH-KY metro area and across the nation in the “State of the Air” report at Lung.org/sota. For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health and healthy air, contact the American Lung Association in West Virginia Communications Director Ewa Dworakowski by calling 717-971-1123 or 717-503-3903 (cell) or emailing [email protected].
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.