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District of Columbia Receives Mixed Grades For Air Quality

(April 26, 2013)

Some of us living in the District of Columbia might want to hold our breath. According to our just released 14th annual American Lung Association "State of the Air" report, some of us are breathing air that threatens our health.

Fortunately, most of us in the District can take a deep breath because we're breathing overall healthier air than in previous years, consistent with the nationwide long-term trend toward much healthier air. However, some of us are still inhaling hazardous levels of air pollution.

"State of the Air 2013" is the Lung Association's 14th annual, national air quality "report card." It uses the most recent air pollution data from 2009-2011 compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the two most widespread types of pollution - ozone (smog) and particle pollution (PM2.5, also known as soot.) The report grades counties and ranks cities based on their scores for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution.

What did the "State of the Air" find in your area? Here are some report highlights from the District of Columbia and the encompassing metropolitan area.

  • The District of Columbia's air pollution improved through reduced short-term particle pollution, improving from a D in last year's report to a C this year.
  • The Washington Metropolitan Area (Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia) had its lowest levels of particle pollution since the first report in 2000 and dropped out of the Top 25 list of most polluted cities for short-term particle pollution.
  • The District received an F for ozone levels due to worsening conditions.
  • The Washington Metropolitan Area had slightly higher ozone levels since last year's report and ranked 9th most polluted in the nation.

Nationwide improvements can be attributed to stricter health standards under the Clean Air Act. The Lung Association led the fight for a new, national air quality standard that strengthened limits on annual levels of particle pollution last December. Thanks to EPA's enforcement of Clean Air Act safeguards, the U.S. has seen continued reductions in air pollution.

Despite a national trend for improved air quality, the report found that more than 131.8 million Americans still live in counties that have unhealthy levels of air pollution. That means 4 in 10 people, or 42 percent, of us live where the air can cause serious health harm - even shortening our lives.

Someone you love is likely at higher risk

Air pollution remains a pervasive health threat. You probably know someone on the list below who faces a higher risk from air pollution (maybe including you!):

  • infants, children, teenagers and older adults
  • anyone with lung diseases like asthma or COPD
  • people with heart disease or diabetes
  • people with low incomes
  • anyone who works or exercises outdoors

Dangerous levels of ozone or particle pollution can cause wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death. Learn more about the health risks of air pollution.

You Can Help

Want to help protect the air we all share? Here's what you can do:

  • Urgent! Tell EPA that we need cleaner gasoline and vehicles to cut pollution all across the nation. For about , we can all breathe a lot easier.
  • Take time to share your story about why healthy air matters to you and your family.
  • Take steps to clean up the air in your community and to protect your family: drive less; walk, bike, carpool or take transit. Don't burn wood or trash. Make sure your local school system uses clean school buses. Use less electricity. Don't exercise on high pollution days and never exercise near busy freeways.
  • Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at @americanlungdc for much more information about lung health.
  • Make a to the American Lung Association to support our fight for clean and healthy air at .


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