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Rhode Island Air Quality Improved, Finds 2018 ‘State of the Air’ Report

Despite continued improvement in air quality, residents’ health remains at risk from unhealthy air, according to American Lung Association’s 19th annual air quality report

Trend charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades are available at Lung.org/sota

(April 18, 2018) - PROVIDENCE, R.I.

For more information please contact:

Jennifer Solomon
[email protected]
(516) 680-8927

The American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of the Air” report found that while the Providence, Rhode Island metro area saw marked improvements in both year-round particle pollution and ozone, the city’s progress has been less dramatic than neighboring communities, leaving it to be ranked as the most polluted county in the Boston-Worcester-Providence metro area. The metro area as a whole improved, making the 2018 report its best ever for ozone and lowest ever for year-round levels for particle pollution.

“The 2018 ‘State of the Air’ report finds that unhealthful levels of ozone remain in Providence, putting residents 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 like COPD. We are glad to see a slight improvement from last year, but a D grade is still far from the mark,” said Jeff Seyler, Chief Division Officer of the American Lung Association. “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 reported in this year’s report, which covers data collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2014-2016, reflect the ongoing challenges to reduce each pollutant in the changing political and outdoor climate.

“We are on the right track, but we can and should do more to save lives,” Jennifer Wall, Director of Public Policy in Rhode Island said. “The Lung Association in Rhode Island 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 like the Clean Power Plan and cleaner cars, both steps that help us fight climate change and reduce air pollution.” 

Each year the “State of the Air” provides 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
Compared to the 2017 report, Providence is the only reporting county in Rhode Island to have improved their grade from an F to a D.  However, all three counties (Providence, Kent and Washington) experienced a drop in the number of high ozone days, resulting in lower weighted averages in the 2018 report.  

“Ozone especially harms children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” said Wall.  “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 showed 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
The 2018 report also found year-round particle pollution levels slightly lower than the 2017 report. All three counties maintained passing grades, showing their data is in line with national standards. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution.

“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 Wall. “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. The report found that only Providence experienced 2 days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels in 2014-2016, which was unchanged from the 2017 report.

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 Rhode Island rankings, as well as air quality across the state and the nation, in the 2018 “State of the Air” report at Lung.org/sota.

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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 coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.

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