Kentucky's Air Quality Improving, Still a Long Way to Go Finds 2016 'State of the Air' Report
(April 20, 2016) - Frankfort, KY
Despite continued improvement in air quality, local residents remain at risk from health effects of unhealthy air, according to new report from the American Lung Association
Editor's Note: Trend charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades are available at stateoftheair.org
The American Lung Association has released its annual "State of the Air Report" for 2016. The report found continued improvement on the national level in air quality in 2012–2014, showing lower levels of year-round particle pollution and ozone. Still, more than half of all Americans-166 million people-live in counties where they are exposed to unhealthful levels of these pollutants.
The "State of the Air 2016" report shows that cleaning up pollution continues successfully in much of the nation. In the 25 cities with the worst pollution, the majority saw improvements from last year. Many saw their lowest levels ever of year-round particle pollution or ozone pollution.
However, more than one in two people had unhealthy air quality in their communities. Even as most cities experienced strong improvement, too many cities suffered worse episodes of unhealthy air. While most of the nation has much cleaner air quality than even a decade ago, a few cities reported their worst number of unhealthy days since the report began, including some that experienced extreme weather events. The "State of the Air 2016" report provides evidence that a changing climate will make it harder to protect human health.
Kentucky saw marked improvements in many areas for particle pollution or soot. Four Kentucky cities made the "cleanest" list for short-term particle solution including Ashland, Bowling Green, Glasgow, Lexington, Richmond, Frankfort and Owensboro.
Again this year, no Kentucky counties made the list for the cleanest counties in the nation for ozone pollution, with 16 counties receiving a grade of F in the report. Likewise no cities in Kentucky were ranked as the cleanest cities for year-round particle pollution.
"In spite of improvements in year-round particle pollution, the 2016 'State of the Air' report finds unhealthful levels of ozone in too many Kentucky counties, putting our local citizens at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks and cardiovascular harm, said Heather Wehrheim, Director of Advocacy for the American Lung Association in Kentucky. "Across the nation, the report found continued improvement in air quality, but more than half of the people in the United States live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution."
Each year the "State of the Air" reports on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution and particle pollution. 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 be lethal. But the trends reported in this year's report, which covers data collected in 2012-2014, are strikingly different for these pollutants nationwide.
"Ozone is harmful to public health and especially children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases," said Wehrheim. "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."
Nationwide, ozone pollution has decreased because the nation has cleaned up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles. However, according to research, climate change causes warmer temperatures, which makes ozone harder to clean up.
"Particle pollution is made of soot or 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 Wehrheim. "Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines."
Increased heat, changes in weather patterns, drought and wildfires are all related to climate change, which has contributed to the extraordinarily high numbers of days with unhealthy particle pollution in some cities.
"If we can do more to save lives-we should, and we can," Wehrheim said. "The Lung Association calls on Kentucky's leaders to develop a strong strategy for implementing the Clean Power Plan and reinstating our state's renewable energy and energy efficiency standards to reduce harmful emissions from power plants that worsen climate change and immediately harm health."
Learn more about the rankings, as well as air quality across Kentucky and the nation in the 2016 "State of the Air" report at stateoftheair.org.
For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health and healthy air, contact the American Lung Association in Kentucky at [email protected] or 502/759-2889.