The survey by the NGO, State of the Air 2001, released on 1 May, which assigns air quality in counties a grade ranging from ‘A’ to ‘F’ based on how often their air pollution levels exceed the unhealthy categories of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index for ground-level ozone (smog) pollution between 1997-9, has produced worrying findings. It says that in one year the number of Americans living in areas that received an ‘F’ in the report increased by more than 9 million compared with last year’s report, from 132 million to more than 141 million, representing some 75% of the nation’s population who live in counties where there are ozone monitors.

This includes more than 30 million children under the age of 14, an increase of 1.6 million on 2000’s figures and some 17 million Americans over age 65, an increase of one million, groups which are particularly prone to air pollution. In addition, the number of counties that received an ‘F’ in air quality jumped 15% from last year, from 333 to 382 counties, meaning that 58% of the counties where there are ozone monitors received a failing grade, while the total number of high ozone days in the ‘F’ range increased 25% in monitored counties.

The report also found that according to the EPA’s Air Quality Index, there were a total of 12,805 ‘orange’ (unhealthy for sensitive groups such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema sufferers) days in counties being monitored for ozone in 1997 to 1999, a jump of 25% from the last report, which used 1996-8 figures. The number of ‘red’ (unhealthy) days rose 11% during the same period, but ‘purple’ (very unhealthy) days decreased slightly, from 219 in the 2000 report to 209 in this year’s report.

Only three cities from last year’s report dropped off the list of America’s 25 most ozone-polluted cities for this year: Modesto in California; Birmingham in Alabama; and St. Louis in Missouri. However, Richmond-Petersburg in Virginia; Baton Rouge in Louisiana; Louisville in Kentucky; Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point in North Carolina; and Chattanooga in Tennessee all join this year’s most polluted list.

The ALA says that the report demonstrates that ozone air pollution isn’t just a problem in isolated areas of the country, with south-eastern and mid-Atlantic cities on the list of the highest-ozone cities, along with the better-known pollution centres such as Los Angeles and Houston. Atlanta, for example jumped from the 9th to the 6th most polluted city, while Raleigh-Durham in North Carolina climbed from 17th to 10th place in one year.

California is the state with the most counties on the most-polluted counties list, with 11, including the entire top five: San Bernadino, Riverside, Kern, Fresno and Tulare. Two improvements in the state were that Los Angeles County dropped from being the fifth to the eighth most ozone-polluted counties, while San Diego fell from number six to number 17 on the list of America’s 25 most ozone-polluted cities.

Cities which reported no days in the unhealthy ranges included Bellingham in Washington; Colorado Springs in Colorado; Des Moines in Iowa and Duluth in Minnesota.

A new web site, provided by the environmental NGO, Environmental Defense Fund, allows visitors to see who suffers the most from pollution in communities across the United States. Merely by typing in a location or zip code, the ‘Scorecard’ web site reports on releases of toxic chemicals, cancer risks from air pollution, Superfund sites and facilities that emit air pollutants, using governmental data.

The web site also lists environmental inequities in each area by race, income, poverty level, job classification and home ownership. In Camden, New Jersey, for example, black people are about 4.5 times more likely to live near Superfund sites than their white neighbours, face a greater risk of contracting cancer from air pollution and are more likely to be exposed to toxic chemicals.

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