Annual air quality report shows US air quality improving

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that concentrations of six major pollutants have decreased, although almost one in four Americans continue to live in areas where at least one of them cause the air to be unhealthy.

The EPA’s annual air quality report, released on 7 August, showed that from 1990 to 1999: carbon monoxide concentrations decreased by 36%; lead by 60%; sulphur dioxide by 36%; particulate matter by 18%; nitrogen dioxide by 10%, and smog concentrations decreased by four percent.

“Americans have made significant progress in improving our air quality and protecting public health, but real challenges still remain,” said EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner. “That is why the Clinton-Gore Administration has taken major actions to reduce air pollution that will have benefits for decades to come. Those actions include requiring the cleanest cars, SUVs, trucks and gasoline ever produced, and controlling windblown smog through the first-ever strategy designed to protect air quality throughout much of the Eastern United States. And, we will do more to ensure continued air quality improvements.”

The EPA said that since the 1970 Clean Air Act came into force concentrations of all six pollutants except NOx had decreased. Nitrogen dioxide emissions, despite falling over the last 10 years, had actually increased by 17% since the act’s introduction. This is blamed on an increase in heavy-duty diesel vehicles and coal-fired power plants.

The EPA admits that air pollution remains a problem in many areas, including rural areas and some national parks, which have experienced high smog levels of resulting from pollution emitted many miles away. It says that 62 million American citizens are subjected to unhealthy air daily. The cities which most frequently registered a poor air quality index were Bakersfield, Fresno and Riverside-San Bernadino, all in California. San Francisco, Minneapolis and Seattle were the biggest cities with the most frequently clean air.

Calexico and Los Angeles-Long Beach in California had particularly high CO2 emissions in 1999, but several 1998 offenders, such as Las Vegas and Des Moines, Iowa, had improved significantly.

The EPA also outlined its plan to further reduce air pollution, including; 1999 exhaust emission standards for cars, lorries, mini-vans and pickup trucks, to take effect beginning in 2004, that are up to 95% than current standards; new gasoline standards that will reduce sulphur levels by 90%; a 1999 plan to restore visibility in national parks and federal wilderness areas; rules for reducing the regional transport of smog throughout the Eastern United States, and for cleaner buses and heavy duty trucks (see related story)

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