While Texas Fares Better in Air Report, More Work Still Ahead

State of the Air ReportTexas air quality improved slightly last year, but more than half of the nation still suffers pollution levels that are often dangerous to breathe, according to the Annual State of the Air Report released today from the American Lung Association. The report reviewed levels of ozone and particle pollution found in monitoring sites across the United States in 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Key National Findings:

  • More than 154 million people (over half the nation) suffer from pollution levels that exceed health-based federal standards.
  • Each of the 25 cities with the most ozone pollution improved their air quality over the past year’s report, however people living there still breathe air that reaches dangerous levels.
  • Particle pollution declined due to coal-fired power plant emission reductions and a transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines.

Texas Findings:

  • Houston moved down from 7th to 8th place among the most ozone-polluted cities in the country, while Dallas-Fort Worth moved up from 13th to 12th place. (Note: There appears to be a correlation between rising ozone levels in DFW and increased levels of natural gas drilling. A Fort Worth report looking at gas drilling environmental impacts is due for release in June.)
  • 14 of the 38 Texas counties studied in the report received an F for having too many high ozone days (compared to 21 Texas counties receiving an F last year).
  • Harris County, with more than four million people, topped the Texas county list with 66 orange ozone days (unhealthy for sensitive populations), and 10 red ozone days (unhealthy for the general population). Tarrant County, with 1.7 million people, came in second with 59 orange ozone days, 4 red ozone days and one purple ozone day (very unhealthy for the general population).

Though fewer Texas counties received an F in this year’s report, there is still work to be done. This summer, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce a stronger ozone standard – between 60-70 ppb – a significant strengthening from the current standard of 84 ppb. This will most likely push more counties out of attainment, providing even more motivation to collectively work on reducing pollution.

We can continue to reduce air pollution levels in Texas. It will take some effort, but Texans can do it. Along those lines, the following are recommendations from the American Lung Association:

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE:

  • Protect the Clean Air Act
  • Clean up dirty power plants
  • Clean up the existing fleet of dirty diesel vehicles and heavy equipment.
  • Strengthen the ozone standards
  • Strengthen the particle pollution standards
  • Clean up harmful emissions from tailpipes

WHAT CAN INDIVIDUALS DO:

  • Send a message to EPA. Send a message to tell EPA to clean up hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants. Tell EPA you support stronger standards for ozone and particle pollution to limit how much of those pollutants can be in the air.
  • Tell the President and Congress that you support the Clean Air Act and that they should, too. Send a message to tell them to keep the safeguards in place in this public health law.
  • Drive less. Combine trips, walk, bike, carpool or vanpool, and use buses, subways or other alternatives to driving.
  • Don’t burn wood or trash. Burning firewood and trash are among the largest sources of particles in many parts of the country.
  • Make sure your local school system requires clean school buses, which includes replacing or retrofitting old buses.
  • Get involved. Participate in your community’s review of its air pollution plans and support state and local efforts to clean up air pollution. To find your local air pollution control agency, go to www.4cleanair.org.
  • Use less electricity. Turn out the lights and use energy-efficient appliances.

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