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Coastal Ozone Sources Include Asian Emissions

Twenty cities on this year’s list of 25 cities most polluted by year-round particle levels had cleaner air than last year’s report found. But California cities were a different story,

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Those aren't cherry blossoms wafting on the winds from across the Pacific!

Springtime ozone levels above western North America are rising primarily due to air flowing eastward from the Pacific Ocean, a trend that is largest when the air originates in Asia. These increases in ozone could make it more difficult for the United States to meet Clean Air Act standards for ozone pollution at ground level, according to an international study published in the journal Nature. The study was the first to pull together and then analyze the nearly 100,000 ozone observations gathered in separate studies by instruments on aircraft, balloons, and other platforms.

The analysis shows an overall significant increase in springtime ozone of 14 percent from 1995 to 2008. When they included data from 1984, the year with the lowest average ozone level, the scientists saw a similar rate of increase from that time through 2008 and an overall increase in springtime ozone of 29 percent.

“In springtime, pollution from across the hemisphere, not nearby sources, contributes to the ozone increases above western North America,” said lead author Owen R. Cooper, Ph.D., of the NOAA-funded Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Combustion of fossil fuels releases pollutants like nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which react in the presence of sunlight to form ozone. North American emissions contribute to global ozone levels, but the researchers did not find any evidence that these local emissions are driving the increasing trend in ozone above western North America.

The study used springtime ozone measurements because previous studies have shown that air transport from Asia to North America is strongest in spring, making it easier to discern possible effects of distant pollution on the North American ozone trends.

What This Means...

American companies can only control their own emissions ... but with more and more manufacturing moving to China because costs are lower and pollution standards more lax ... well, American companies still have responsibility for the impact of their manufacturing-related emissions.

Ship transportation is one of the largest polluters in coastal communities, and transporting goods from "cheap" manufacturing locations thousands of miles offshore increases the use of petroleum that causes emissions ... which cause asthma and lung and heart disease in American communities.

Recent ozone research has also found in 2008 that salty coastal air mixed with sunshine and pollutants helps create unexpectedly high levels of ground-level ozone.

That ground-level ozone affects health in West Coast cities.

Ozone is one of the reasons California has the lion's share of the "Dirtiest Cities" in America in 2010.

The American Lung Association in its "State Of The Air 2010" report finds SEVEN California metropolitan areas with air quality bad enough to place them in their list of "Top 10 Dirtiest Cities in America."

That list includes 20 million people who are at higher risk of asthma and chronic bronchitis.

The Top Ten Dirtiest Cities in the United States

1. Bakersfield, CA (800,000 people).

2. Fresno-Madera, CA (1.1 million people)

3. Pittsburgh-New Castle, PA (2.4 million people)

4. Los Angeles, Long Beach and Riverside area (17.8 million people)

5. Birmingham-Hoover-Cullman, Alabama (1.2 million people)

6. Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Yuba City, CA, NV (2.4 million people)

7. Salt Lake City-Ogden-Clearfield, UT (1.7 million people)

8. Visalia-Porterville, CA (430,000 people)

9. Modesto, CA (500,000 people)

10. Hanford-Corcoran, Ca (150,000 people)

But don't let this lineup make you think your city is safe from air pollution. Additional highly polluted cities include: Merced, Philadelphia, Provo, Phoenix, Stockton, Chicago, San Diego, Washington, New York, Logan, Eugene OR, Harrisburg PA, San Jose-San Francisco, Indianapolis, Allentown. More than half the people in the USA are not free of air pollution that is in the dangerous zone.

But this is a cultural transition challenge we can win.

American Lung Association sees progress but much work remains

The "State of the Air 2010" study found that a decade of cleanup measures, including reductions in coal-fired powered plants emissions and the transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines have paid off in cutting levels of deadly particle and ozone pollution in 2006-2008.

Improvements have been seen particularly in eastern and Midwestern U.S. cities, including

  • Atlanta
  • Cincinnati
  • Cleveland
  • New York City
  • Pittsburgh
  • St. Louis
  • Washington, DC/Baltimore, MD.

Half the US Population Suffers Dangerous Levels of Air Pollution

Despite this progress, State of the Air 2010 reveals that more than half the population of the United States suffered pollution levels that were too often dangerous to breathe, in 2006-2008. The report finds that unhealthy air posed a threat to the lives and health of more than 175 million people—roughly 58% of the population. And, despite progress in many places, the report finds that some cities, mostly in California, had air that was more polluted than in the previous report.

What you can do

You can do your part to help improve air quality and protect your family today.
  • Drive less; walk, bike, carpool or take transit.
  • Don’t burn wood or trash.
  • Don’t exercise on high pollution days and don’t ever exercise near busy freeways.
  • Make sure your local school system uses clean school buses and properly ventilates equipment and classrooms.
  • Use less electricity and more natural air and light.
  • You can join the clean air fight by joining the Lung Action Network, or supporting the work of your local Lung Association.

What our government needs to do

The American Lung Association is calling for Congress to pass the Clean Air Act Amendments of 2010, which will cut emissions from coal-fired power plants that create particle pollution and ozone.

Congress also needs to ensure that only clean diesel equipment is used in federally-funded construction projects, and to provide funds for the cleanup of existing diesel engines.

The US and state Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) need to implement measures to

  • Clean up power plants and ocean-going vessels,
  • Strengthen national standards for outdoor air pollutants -- especially ozone and particle pollution
  • Set tough new standards to require the cleanup of nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons and particle emissions from cars.

Does Your County Rate an "F" Grade

Check the list from the American Lung Association's report for California County air quality grades.

Learn more at Yahoo and The American Lung Association, and State of the Air report.

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| air pollution | California air quality |


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