Lung Association still gives county two failing grades, area improved in national comparisons
by Sue Dremann
Palo Alto Online Staff
After being among the nation’s 25 dirtiest counties for two years, Santa Clara County has improved in the American Lung Association’s clean-air test.
The association’s "State of the Air 2010" dropped the county from its top 25 list, which looked at levels of ozone and particle-pollution data from 700 monitoring sites across the United States.
In 2008, the county ranked 17 out of the nation’s 25 top dirtiest counties and was the 24th most polluted county for short-term particle pollution in 2009, according to reports.
The county’s improved ranking could be the result of more stringent rules on air quality in the last two years.
Passage in 2005 of California Senate Bill 656 requires the California Air Resources Board to work with local air districts to adopt particulate-matter control measures.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has enforced a wood-burning ban on "Spare the Air" days from Nov. 1 through Feb. 28 since 2008.
More than 1.4 million fireplaces and wood stoves in the Bay Area created one third of particulates polluting the air on winter nights, according to the district. In comparison, autos spew approximately 23 percent.
The Bay Area had nine days in excess of federal standards from November 2009 to February 2010 compared to 20 days in 2006-2007, according to district data.
While being knocked off the list as among the most polluted nationwide, Santa Clara County still has unhealthy pollution levels, receiving an "F" for high-ozone days and high-particle-pollution days.
From 2006 to 2008, the county had 15 high-ozone-level days ranked "orange" and two ranked "red." Of high-particle-pollution days, 21 were ranked "orange," according to the report.
Santa Clara County’s 427,432 people under 18 years old and 192,846 seniors 65 and older are at risk for lung diseases, according to the 2010 report.
Children at risk for pediatric asthma totaled more than 40,000, while adults with asthma risk totaled more than 112,000.
Ozone, a gas, has smog as its primary ingredient. It is highly damaging to lung tissue and leads to decreased lung function.
Particle pollution is a mixture of soot diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols, which cause premature death, increased rates of heart attacks, stroke, bronchitis, asthma and other lung diseases, according to the American Lung Association.
California still holds the top spots for dirtiest cities: Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside; Bakersfield; Visalia-Porterville; Fresno-Madera and Hanford-Corcoran were among those ranked for the highest levels of ozone, particulate matter or both, according to the report.
Air quality in many places has improved, but more than 175 million people — roughly 58 percent of the U.S. population — still suffer pollution levels that are too often dangerous to breathe, the report noted.
For the first time, the report includes population estimates for people living in poverty. According to the report, people who have low incomes face higher risk of harm from air pollution.
The report can be viewed in its entirety at [www.stateoftheair.org http://www.stateoftheair.org].
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