Ozone Pollution

What Is Ozone?

Ozone is a molecule of three oxygen atoms. Ozone attacks lung tissue by reacting chemically with it. Learn more about ozone.

Twenty of the 25 cities with the worst ozone pollution reduced the number of high ozone days they experienced each year, improving over the previous report. Twelve experienced their best ozone seasons ever during 2013-2015, reaching their lowest weighted average number of days of unhealthy levels each year.

Los Angeles remains at the top of this list as it has for all but one of the 18 reports. Los Angeles also continues its success at cleaning up ozone, dropping its average number of unhealthy days to its lowest level ever.

Also experiencing their fewest high ozone days on average were ten other cities among the 25 most polluted by ozone. They include Bakersfield, CA; Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, CA; Modesto-Merced, CA; Sacramento, CA; New York-Newark; Las Vegas, NV; Dallas-Fort Worth; El Centro, CA; San Jose-San Francisco; Philadelphia; and Chico, CA

Nine others improved, though not reaching their lowest level: Fresno-Madera, CA; Phoenix, Az.; Denver-Aurora, CO; El Centro, CA; Fort Collins, CO; El Paso-Las Cruces, TX-NM; San Antonio; Hartford, CT; and Sheboygan, WI. One city – Redding-Red Bluff, CA – had the same number of unhealthy ozone days on average in this year’s report.

Los Angeles improved over last year and again had its best ozone report in the history of the State of the Air.

Four cities suffered more high ozone days on average than in last year’s report: San Diego; #12 Houston; Salt Lake City; and Baton Rouge, LA.

These comparisons are all based on the Air Quality Index adopted with the 2015 ozone standard. Although EPA has yet to designate any places for cleanup based on that standard, it remains the current official national ambient air quality standard.

Regional differences. Cities in the West and Southwest continue to dominate the most ozone-polluted list. California retains its historic challenge with seven of the ten most polluted metropolitan areas in that state and 11 of the worst 25. California’s weather and geography complicate the strong effort the state continues to make to reduce emissions. The Southwest continues to fill most of the remaining slots, with nine of the 25 most ozone polluted cities. Texas has four cities in the 25 most-polluted list: Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, El Paso and San Antonio. Colorado has two: Denver and Fort Collins. Arizona, Nevada and Utah each have one. The Northeast also has three metro areas on the list, two of which cover parts of multiple states: New York City, Philadelphia, and Hanford, CT. The Midwest has only Sheboygan, WI in the 25 most-polluted list. The only southern city to remain on the list is Baton Rouge, LA.

Those changes reflect changes seen in the past two reports, where increased oil and gas extraction especially in the Southwest and cleanup of power plants in the eastern U.S. have shifted the cities that experienced the greatest number of unhealthy air days.

Did You Know?

  1. More than 5 out of 10 people live where the air they breathe earned an F in State of the Air 2016.
  2. Nearly 166 million people live in counties that received an F for either ozone or particle pollution in State of the Air 2016.
  3. Nearly 20 million people live in counties that got an F for all three air pollution measures in State of the Air 2016.
  4. Breathing ozone irritates the lungs, resulting in something like a bad sunburn within the lungs.
  5. Breathing in particle pollution can increase the risk of lung cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
  6. Particle pollution can also cause early death and heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits for people with asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
  7. Particles are smaller than 1/30th the diameter of a human hair. When you inhale them, they are small enough to get past the body's natural defenses.
  8. Ozone and particle pollution are both linked to increased risk of lower birth weight in newborns.
  9. Do you live near, or work on or near a busy highway? Pollution from the traffic may put you at greater risk of harm.
  10. People who work or exercise outside face increased risk from the effects of air pollution.
  11. Millions of people are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, including infants, older adults and people with lung diseases like asthma.
  12. People of color and those earning lower incomes are often disproportionately affected by air pollution which put them at higher risk for illnesses.
  13. Air pollution is a serious health threat. It can trigger asthma attacks, harm lung development in children, and can even be deadly.
  14. You can protect your family by checking the air quality forecasts in your community and avoiding exercising or working outdoors when the unhealthy air is expected.
  15. Big polluters and some members of Congress are trying to change the Clean Air Act and dismantle 45 years' of progress. The Lung Association is fighting to keep the law strong to continue to protect public health.
  16. Cutting air pollution through the Clean Air Act will prevent at least 230,000 deaths and save $2 trillion annually by 2020.
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