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In WV, year-round fine particle pollution levels best ever, but ozone smog more often worse than better, finds 2018 State of the Air Report

Daily particle pollution scores almost always earn monitored locales “Cleanest County” titles, according to American Lung Associations 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.

For more information please contact:

Ewa Dworakowski
[email protected]
717-971-1123

The American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of the Air” report found that ozone air pollution in West Virginia and throughout much of the Mid-Atlantic often worsened when compared with last year’s report, even as fine particle pollution levels continued their steady improvement. The 19th annual “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.

West Virginia includes all or part of six metropolitan areas where air pollution is monitored. Air pollution is also measured in four other WV counties not in those metro areas. Most of the state, however—the 40 remaining counties—do not have officially operated monitors for these measures of ambient air pollution.

For year-round particle pollution, all monitored values met the current national standard for the most recent four years of “State of the Air reports. In many cases, these marked the several consecutive reports in which the pollution level reported for the worst county in the various metro areas improved. Except for Marion County’s “Incomplete” grade, all counties that posted grades in last year’s report improved for this measure, and attained their best performance. Except for the Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, PA-WV-OH metro area (with results dependent on the performance of Allegheny County, PA) and the Wheeling, WV-OH metro area, whose ranks held constant, the ranks for three other metro areas in the state for this measure all improved (Charleston-Huntington-Ashland, WV-OH-KY, Morgantown-Fairmont, WV, and Parkersburg-Marietta-Vienna, WV-OH).

Eleven counties were monitored for the daily measure of fine particle pollution. With the exception of Ohio County’s continuing with its “B” grade, all others earned “A’s” placing them among the cleanest in the country. Many counties have had that distinction for at least five years, but one county (Berkeley) achieved its first “A” ever and joined the ranks of the country’s cleanest counties by moving from a “B” to an “A.”  While the two largest metro areas (Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton and Charleston-Huntington-Ashland) saw their ranks worsen, the three remaining areas with data showed improvement (Wheeling), or even the best rank possible with an “A” (Morgantown-Fairmont and Parkersburg-Marietta-Vienna).

For ozone, 10 counties were also monitored, for which the worst value, posted for Wood County, nevertheless was the lowest such number ever reported in the state. Statewide, half of these counties recorded worse results than in last year’s report, three equaled last year’s numbers, and only two (Hancock and Wood) showed improvement. Despite this, only three counties’ grades worsened (Cabell, from a “B” to a “C,” and Berkeley and Gilmer, from an “A” to a “B”) even as the worst grade in the Mountain State for ozone remained a “C.” In this year’s report, only one county, Greenbrier, held on to its “A” and to its designation as one of the cleanest counties in the nation for ozone smog. Three of the five West Virginia metro areas ranked for this pollutant (Morgantown-Fairmont, Parkersburg-Marietta-Vienna, and the Pittsburgh metro) saw their ranks improve. Those with worsening ranks (Wheeling and Charleston-Huntington-Ashland) saw relatively small adjustments.

Compared to the 2017 report, in West Virginia several counties have seen an increase in unhealthy days for ozone and a continuing long-term 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.  Current particle pollution levels in the state have values that are much better than the national standard, but days with levels of ozone that are unhealthy for sensitive populations are unfortunately still too common.

“The 2018 ‘State of the Air’ report finds that unhealthful levels of ozone in the Mountain State can still occasionally 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
“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.

Fine 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.” Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution. 

“State of the Air” 2018 also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. Although many West Virginia counties continue to be found among the nation’s cleanest for this measure, in other areas of the country, many of the daily spikes of 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 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].

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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.

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