Last week, the American Lung Association (ALA) released its annual State of the Air report, which reviews air pollution data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for two of the most hazardous types of air pollution: ozone and particulate matter.
Overall findings indicate that ozone pollution increased in metropolitan areas throughout the nation due to warmer temperatures. At the same time, fine particle pollution, or soot as it is most commonly called, decreased due to fewer emissions from coal-fired power plants and wider use of cleaner fuels and engines.
For a primer on ozone pollution and health, read here.
Unfortunately, Houston crept up in the rankings to 6th most polluted for ozone in the country (up from 7th last year). And with the exception of Dallas-Fort Worth, other cities in Texas followed the national ozone trend, reporting a greater number of unhealthy days this year. Texas cities did fare better on soot pollution, although a notable exception was El Paso, which was one of only five U.S. cities that saw an increase in year-round pollution.
Key National Findings
- Nearly half of Americans (47 percent) live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or soot pollution
- Year-round soot pollution decreased in 18 of the 25 cities with the highest annual levels, thanks to reduced use of coal power plants and cleaner cars and trucks
- Ozone pollution increased in 22 of the 25 cities with the worst ozone pollution due to warmer temperatures
Key Texas Findings
- Houston-The Woodlands and Dallas-Fort Worth ranked 6th and 8th, respectively, for worst ozone pollution in the country
- El Paso and Las Cruces ranked 8th and 9th for worst year-round and short-term soot pollution, respectively
- 19 Texas counties received a grade of “F” for ozone pollution (up from 15 counties in 2013)
- Dallas (39 orange level ozone days, 5 red)
- Harris (72 orange level ozone days, 8 red, 1 purple)
- Tarrant (54 orange level ozone days, 6 red)
What does this mean?
Texas lags behind many other states in cleaning up our air – in part because of the lack of Texas leadership. Recent victories on the Cross State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury Air Toxics Rule will help improve air quality and health across the state, but more needs to be done. Texas leaders need to abandon the crusade to challenge clean air protections and work proactively to ensure that all Texans are afforded the benefits provided under the Clean Air Act. Both government policy and actions from individuals can help reduce ozone pollution in Texas, and the American Lung Association has some tips on how to help.
What needs to be done:
- Clean up harmful emissions from smokestacks
- Clean up harmful emissions from tailpipes
- Reduce wood smoke emissions
- Improve the air pollution monitoring network
- Adopt an ozone standard that follows the law and protects health
- Protect the Clean Air Act
What individuals can do:
- Tell the President and EPA to set standards for carbon pollution from new and existing power plants. The EPA also needs to set tighter standards for ozone.
- Send a message to Congress. Urge them to support cleaner, healthier air and oppose measures to block or delay the cleanup of air pollution. They should support and protect the Clean Air Act.
- Share your story. Do you or any member of your family have a personal reason to want healthier, cleaner air?
- Drive less. Combine trips, walk, bike, carpool or vanpool, and use buses, subways or other alternatives to driving. Vehicle emissions are a major source of air pollution. Support community plans that provide ways to get around that don't require a car, such as more sidewalks, bike trails and transit systems.
- Use less electricity. Turn out the lights and use energy-efficient appliances. Generating electricity is one of the biggest sources of pollution, particularly in the eastern United States.
- Don't burn wood or trash. Burning firewood and trash are among the largest sources of particles in many parts of the country. If you must use a fireplace or stove for heat, convert your woodstoves to natural gas, which has far fewer polluting emissions. Compost and recycle as much as possible and dispose of other waste properly; don’t burn it. Support efforts in your community to ban outdoor burning of construction and yard wastes. Avoid the use of outdoor hydronic heaters, also called outdoor wood boilers, which are frequently much more polluting than woodstoves.
- Make sure your local school system requires clean school buses, which includes replacing or retrofitting old school buses with filters and other equipment to reduce emissions. Make sure your local schools don’t idle their buses, a step that can immediately reduce emissions.
- 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.