Allen County’s air quality improved in terms of soot in recent years, but the number of high-ozone days worsened, according to a report issued today.
The American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air report gave Allen County a C for ozone days, down from the B the county got in the 2012 report. Its grade for particulate pollution – known as soot – improved from an F to a D.
“It’s still unacceptable,” said Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner.
The report examined data from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air quality monitors placed across the nation. This year’s report looked at data from 2009 through 2011.
Kim Lacina, a spokesperson for the American Lung Association’s upper Midwest region, said air quality has been improving over the 14 years it has been monitored in this way, but the numbers show improvement is needed.
“In so many counties across the country, people are still living with very high levels of particulate pollution and ozone,” Lacina said.
Particulate matter has gotten the scrutiny that officials say it deserves because, unlike other substances such as toxic chemicals that are a specific hazard, soot particles carry other chemicals deep into the lungs, and you can never be sure what those particles are carrying. Scientists do know that particulate pollution puts people at risk of heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits for asthma and cardiovascular disease.
“There have been a number of studies that looked at airborne particulate matter and human health and found associations with increased hospital admissions, premature mortality, lung cancer, heart disease and lung disease,” McMahon said.
“We have learned to associate ozone and asthma, but people think that as long as they don’t have asthma, they don’t really need to worry about either one. But particulate matter is equally, if not more, important than ozone.”
High in the atmosphere, ozone protects the Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation. But at ground level, according to the EPA, it reduces lung function, irritates airways, increases the frequency of asthma attacks, increases susceptibility to respiratory infection, and aggravates chronic lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis.
Last year, Indiana Department of Environmental Management officials disputed the American Lung Association’s report and issued their own a week before. That report claimed Indiana’s air was much healthier than the Lung Association’s report said.
IDEM officials were asked Tuesday afternoon for comment on this year’s report but did not respond.
Lung Association officials said people cannot assume that because the Clean Air Act, a federal law that regulates air pollution, is in place, they don’t have to worry.
“We are constantly having to really battle in Congress to maintain the Clean Air Act,” Lacina said. “There are always lobbying groups and industries trying on a daily basis to weaken it.”