Despite progress in reducing pollution, more than 175 million people live in areas where it is unhealthy to breathe, according to a new report from the American Lung Association. Even when levels are relatively low, people exposed to particle pollution have an increased risk of asthma, lung damage and premature death, the report says.
While air quality is improving in many U.S. cities, 175 million people -- more than half the population -- are still living in areas where the air is often too dangerous to breathe, a new report finds.
The study from the American Lung Association looked at the two biggest air pollution threats in the U.S.: ozone and particle pollution.
The Los Angeles area had the worst levels of ozone, while Bismarck, N.D., had the best.
Bakersfield, Calif., had the worst particle pollution over a 24-hour period, and the Phoenix area had the worst year-round. Alexandria, La., had the lowest level of particle pollution over a 24-hour period, and Cheyenne, Wyo., had the lowest year-round.
Fargo-Wahpeton, N.D., and Lincoln, Nev., emerged as the cleanest cities overall.
The report, based on 2006-08 figures, credited cleaner diesel engines and controls on coal-fired power plants for decreasing pollution such as soot and dust. However, the report estimates that nearly 30 million people live in areas with chronic levels of pollution so that even when levels are relatively low, people can be exposed to particles that will increase the risk of asthma, lung damage and premature death.
About 24 million people live in 18 counties with unhealthy levels of ozone, short-term particle pollution and year-round particle pollution, the report said, adding that new research shows the risk of health problems from pollution may be worse than once thought, especially for infants and children.
The two biggest air pollution threats in the United States are ozone and particle pollution, the Lung Association said. Others include carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and a variety of toxic substances.
For the first time, the association included people living in poverty as one of its at-risk groups, reasoning that people with lower income levels face higher pollution risks.
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