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State’s air quality receives mixed grades for particle and ozone pollution in 2019 ‘State of the Air’ report

The American Lung Association’s 2019 “State of the Air” report found the Louisville/Bardstown metro region ranked 26th as the most polluted city in the nation for ozone (smog) pollution.

The region experienced more high ozone days and retained the ranking it received last year. However, the metro area ranked tied for 30th most polluted for year-round particle levels, a marked improvement from its 21st ranking last year. This is the best-ever ranking for Louisville/Bardstown and the region now meets the national standards. The annual air quality “report card” tracks Americans’ exposure to unhealthful levels of ozone or particle pollution, both of which can be deadly.

“Louisville residents should be aware that we’re breathing unhealthy air, driven by extreme heat as a result of climate change, placing our health and lives at risk,” said Deena Kinkade Adams, executive director of the Lung Association in Kentucky. “In addition to challenges here in Louisville, the 20th anniversary ‘State of the Air’ report highlights that more than 4 in 10 Americans are living with unhealthy air, and we’re heading in the wrong direction when it comes to protecting public health.”

This year’s report covers the most recent quality-assured data available collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2015-17. Notably, those three years were the hottest recorded in global history.

Each year the “State of the Air” provides a report card on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution, also known as smog, and particle pollution, also called soot. The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution.

Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and can increase the risk of premature death and other serious health effects such as lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.

Ozone Pollution in Louisville

Compared to the 2018 report, Louisville experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report.

“Ozone especially harms children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” said Dr. Ted Smith, the Deputy Director of the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, and the University of Louisville School of Medicine and Lung Association spokesperson. “When older adults or children with asthma breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room. Ozone can even shorten life itself.”

This report documents how warmer temperatures brought by climate change make ozone more likely to form and harder to clean up. This year’s report showed that ozone levels increased in most cities nationwide, in large part due to the record-breaking global heat experienced in the three years tracked in the report.

Particle Pollution in Louisville

The 2019 report also found year-round particle pollution levels were at their lowest level ever, with the metro area improving its ranking significantly from 21st in the 2018 report to tied for 30th in this year’s report. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution.

“Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and can even be lethal,” said Adams. “Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines.”

“State of the Air” 2019 also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. The report found that Louisville also had fewer days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels.

From American Lung Association

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