The American Lung Association released the State of the Air 2012 today, an annual report on air quality which lists both the cleanest and most polluted areas in the country.
This year’s report shows that although air pollution continues to threaten the lives and health of over a million of Sacramento residents, trends show continuous progress in reducing ozone and particulate pollution. The findings reinforce the effectiveness of California’s progressive clean air laws and investments, and the importance of the Clean Air Act.
“This report shows that air pollution remains a serious health threat to too many Californians,” said Jane Warner, President and CEO of the American Lung Association in California. “State of the Air 2012 shows that we’re making real and steady progress in the fight for clean air, but unhealthy levels of air pollution still exist, putting the health of millions Californians at risk. Much still needs to be done, and now is not the time to stop progress.”
The Sacramento metropolitan area (Sacramento, Arden-Arcade, Yuba City) continues to make steady progress and improvements, showing the cleanest year recorded for both ozone and short-term particle pollution since the first State of The Air report. Sacramento dropped off the top ten list of cities most polluted by short-term particulates, moving from ninth to 21st in the nation since last year’s report.
Overall, California cities once again dominate lists for the top ten most polluted areas in the U.S. for ozone (smog) and short-term and annual particle pollution. That means more people are at risk for asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death. Despite these poor rankings, many California cities continue to show improvements, including reductions in unhealthy ozone and particulate pollution. The Sacramento region shows particular noteworthy success in reducing particle pollution over the years of the State of the Air report. Annual levels of particle pollution have dropped by over 21% since the 2004 report, and the number of days for short-term particle pollution shows a dramatic drop of over 70% since the 2007 report. California’s groundbreaking air quality policies such as the advanced pollution standards on cars and fuels and diesel emissions regulations implemented by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) have been responsible for tremendous progress in reducing the ozone pollution and diesel soot harming California residents. Sacramento County’s “Check Before You Burn” wood smoke curtailment program also has been instrumental in reducing wintertime particle pollution and improving air quality in the region.
Air pollution problems not only originate within urbanized areas but are also transported to other areas of the state. For example, some emissions that originate in the Bay Area or San Joaquin Valley travel to Sacramento and are trapped in the Sacramento Valley, worsening ozone problems. Similarly, Sacramento transports pollution to other areas, demonstrating that air pollution is a regional problem.
California’s pollution problems are primarily caused by emissions from mobile sources like cars, diesel trucks and buses, locomotives, ships, agricultural and construction equipment, and other transportation sources. Oil refineries, manufacturing plants, and residential wood burning also are key sources of emissions. In addition, California’s warm climate promotes the formation of ozone pollution, and valleys and mountains in the central and eastern portions of the state trap pollution where it can linger for days and put residents at risk for the onset or exacerbation of lung disease.
“Ozone and particle pollution contribute to thousands of hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and deaths every year,” said David Cooke, MD, Lung Surgeon, UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and a volunteer physician for the American Lung Association in California. “Air pollution can stunt the lung development of children, and cause health emergencies, especially for people suffering from chronic lung disease including asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. Both long-term and short –term exposures can result in serious health impacts. Cleaner air can save lives and can lead to better lives for our children.”
Even though the lives of many people are at risk due to air pollution, some members of Congress continue to propose changes to the Clean Air Act that would interfere with efforts to reduce air pollution and protect public health. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that cutting air pollution through the Clean Air Act will prevent at least 230,000 deaths and save $2 trillion annually by 2020. The Lung Association is fighting Congressional attacks that would undermine the Clean Air Act and strip California of its authority to adopt stronger regulations.
“California must continue to demonstrate leadership by stepping up efforts to achieve clean and healthy air for all residents,” said Warner. “This can be done by supporting implementation of state clean car, clean fuel and diesel regulations, redesigning our communities to reduce vehicle trips, and bringing more renewable energy to the state such as solar and wind power. We also urge all Californians to show strong support for the Clean Air Act and to make an effort to reduce air pollution in their communities by driving less, using cleaner transportation options like hybrid and electric vehicles, recycling, avoiding wood burning, and using energy efficient appliances.”