Original Story: marketwatch.com
More than 138 million people — nearly 44% of the U.S. population — live in areas where air pollution reaches dangerously high levels during parts of the year. While exposure to low quality air has declined in recent years, some cities still experience alarming levels of pollution. Based on “State of the Air,” a report released annually by the American Lung Association (ALA), 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 leading metro areas with the highest levels of year-round particle pollution. The report considers two types of pollution: ozone pollution and particle pollution, which can be measured both in short and long-term. Speaking to 24/7 Wall St., Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of national policy at the ALA, explained the three measures. Ozone is a gas formed in the atmosphere through heat, sunlight, and certain gases that can attack lung tissue. Particle pollution is tiny pieces of matter so small that they can bypass the body’s defenses and be inhaled into the lungs. The long-term particulate measure is the average, daily pollution generated by factories, fires, and transportation. Long term particle pollution is measured in micrograms per cubic meter (ug/M3). The short-term particulate measure represents how many days of extreme air pollution occur, and usually reflects how extreme conditions such as fire or drought are creating abnormally high levels of unhealthy particles.
These are America’s 10 most polluted cities.
10. Cleveland-Akron-Canton, Ohio
Average year-round particle pollution: 12.5 ug/M3
People with asthma: 339,464
High ozone days per year: 10.8
Home to more than 3.5 million people, the Cleveland metro area has some of the most polluted air in the country. Cleveland was actually one of five cities that yielded its lowest yearly average particle pollution in the ALA’s 2015 report. Despite the improvement, the metropolitan area still had a much higher than acceptable level of particle pollution. Particle pollution is often the byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels in such places as factories, power plants, and personal vehicles. Manufacturing activity — a long time major economic engine in the Cleveland area — has certainly contributed to the city’s poor air quality. Nearly 340,000 Cleveland residents suffer from asthma, and 232,000 area adults have been diagnosed with COPD. Especially vulnerable to pollution related health risks are the area’s more than 1.3 million residents younger than 18 or older than 65.
9. Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, Penn.-Ohio-W.Va.
Average year-round particle pollution: 13.4 ug/M3
People with asthma: 256,406
High ozone days per year: 12.5
During the golden age of steel production in Pittsburgh, the area was one of the most polluted cities in the U.S. By many accounts, between the factories and the smoke from the coal that was used to heat residents’ homes, the sky was black with smoke before 9 a.m. every morning. While Pittsburgh is a much less industrial city today and the air quality has improved somewhat, the city remains one of the most polluted cities in the country. According to Nolen, the biggest source of pollution in the area is the U.S. Steel plant. The city received failing grades in ozone pollution as well as in long-term and short-term particle pollution. More than a quarter of a million Pittsburgh residents have asthma, a condition which can be exacerbated by air pollution. Above, Randy Geracitano works on a home near the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built along the Monongahela River, 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh in 2013. The plant has since been shut down. A Pittsburgh environmental lawyer is following this story closely.
8. Cincinnati-Wilmington-Maysville, Ohio-Ky.-Ind.
Average year-round particle pollution: 13.6 ug/M3
People with asthma: 213,812
High ozone days per year: 12.2
Like most cities with high particle pollution, the Cincinnati metro area also has a problem with severe ozone pollution. The greater Cincinnati area has been under several air quality advisories this past summer due to dangerously high ozone levels. Similar to California’s Central Valley, high traffic volumes in the Cincinnati area contribute to high pollution levels. In addition, the city is located in a valley, which, like the mountains surrounding Central Valley, helps trap emissions. Above, a coal plant on the Ohio River near Cincinnati.
7. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, Calif.
Average year-round particle pollution: 13.8 ug/M3
People with asthma: 744,481
High ozone days per year: 8.8
The San Francisco Bay Area, which includes the cities of Oakland and San Jose, has the third-largest combined population at risk of illness due to air pollution, at close to 8.5 million. The metro area reported the most days with high particle pollution on record because of the addition of San Joaquin county to the region. The county was the only one in the metro area to fail the ALA’s test for ozone levels and short- and long-term particle pollution. San Joaquin county had an average of 54 days a year in either orange-level conditions, which are unhealthy for people with sensitive respiratory tracts, or in red conditions, which are unhealthy for everyone. A San Francisco environmental attorney represents clients in environmental law matters.
6. El Centro, Calif.
Average year-round particle pollution: 14.3 ug/M3
People with asthma: 15,439
High ozone days per year: 16.2
Like many of the most polluted metro areas in California, El Centro residents suffer from high levels of both ozone and particle pollution. Located in Imperial County, El Centro residents have experienced an average of 16 high-ozone days a year, which is sixth-worst in the country. Known more commonly as smog, high ozone levels occur when fumes from burning fossil fuels are exposed to sunlight. Prolonged exposure to high ozone levels can exacerbate existing respiratory conditions and contribute to early death. More than 15,000 El Centro residents live with asthma, and 5,700 adult residents have been diagnosed with COPD. Above, the Naval Air Facility in El Centro.
5. Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.
Average year-round particle pollution: 15.1 ug/M3
People with asthma: 1.6 million
Population: 18.4 million
High ozone days per year: 117.7
Los Angeles port’s cargo volume this past July was the highest ever in its over 100-year history. According to the EPA, high traffic through the port creates higher emissions that contribute to poor air quality throughout the region. High concentrations of power plants, including numerous oil and gas, petroleum, and electricity plants, release tens of millions of metric tons of carbon emissions each year. While the area is among the nation’s most polluted, Los Angeles reported its lowest pollution levels since the ALA started producing this report. Still, in Los Angeles, residents have experienced an average of 117.7 days of high ozone levels each year, the most of any U.S. metropolitan area. A Los Angeles environmental lawyer provides professional legal counsel and extensive experience in many aspects of environmental law.
4. Modesto-Merced, Calif.
Average year-round particle pollution: 15.7 ug/M3
People with asthma: 69,027
High ozone days per year: 22.3
Modesto residents have experienced an average of 22 high ozone days per year. Only seven metro areas in the country had a greater number of high ozone days. Located almost directly in the center of California’s Central Valley, an area surrounded on three sides by mountains that limit wind and annual rainfall, polluted air stagnates in Modesto. The city was one of six in the country that failed to meet federal air quality standards and where particle pollution worsened since last year’s report. Nearly 70,000 Modesto residents suffer from asthma, and over 25,000 area adults have been diagnosed with COPD.
3. Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, Calif.
Average year-round particle pollution: 17.0 ug/M3
People with asthma: 52,749
High ozone days per year: 82.7
Visalia is located almost directly in between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The city had an average of nearly 83 high-ozone days a year, the second highest rate in the country. The Visalia metro area was one of six California metros to break the top 10 for ozone pollution, ranking second in the nation despite this year reporting the fewest days of unhealthy ozone levels in its reporting history. On the other hand, the city, like many other valley cities, experienced its worst year for particulate pollution.
2. Bakersfield, Calif.
Average year-round particle pollution: 17.3 ug/M3
People with asthma: 75,406
High ozone days per year: 69.7
Bakersfield residents have endured nearly 70 high-ozone level days a year, the third highest rate compared with other U.S. cities. Still, this was a considerable improvement for the area when compared with years past since the ALA began reporting on air quality. As in other California metro areas, however, particularly those in the state’s Central Valley, annual particle pollution worsened last year, partly due to the severe drought conditions in the region. Also, the topography and industrial composition of the Valley is conducive to air pollution problems. Adding to the region’s especially poor air quality is pollution generated by cars and trucks traveling through the region’s major thruways and the toxic gases from manure on the millions of acres of the area’s farmland. Above, oil pumping jacks and drilling pads at the Kern River Oil Field where the principle operator is the Chevron Corporation CVX, +1.07% in Bakersfield.
1. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
Average year-round particle pollution: 18.1 ug/M3
People with asthma: 96,760
High ozone days per year: 68
Air pollution improved in Fresno-Madera, but the metro area is still the most polluted in the country, as it was in the ALA’s 2014 report. As in other parts of California, the statewide, multiyear drought has likely worsened air quality in the area over the past several years. Hot and dry weather can promote dust storms and wildfires, which trap particulates generated by power plants and other carbon emitters. Fresno residents have experienced an average of 68 high-ozone days a year, the sixth highest rate in the country. A Fresno environmental lawyer is following this story closely.