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State of America's Air? Potentially Dangerous

More Than Half of Americans Live in Areas With Unhealthy Air Pollution

WebMD Health News

April 29, 2004 -- More than half of Americans -- 55% -- live in areas with either unhealthy smog or particle air pollution, according to a new report.

The American Lung Association State of the Air: 2004 report shows nearly half of Americans (136 million) live in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone air pollution despite more than three decades of efforts to reduce smog. In addition, up to 28% of Americans (81 million) live in areas with unhealthy short-term particle pollution, and 23% (66 million) live in areas with unhealthy year-round levels of particle pollution.

According to the report, the cities most affected by poor air quality in each region are:

  • Northeast -- New York City; Philadelphia; Harrisburg, Pa.; Pittsburgh; Washington, D.C.; Newark, N.J.; Bridgeport, Conn.; and Baltimore
  • Southeast -- Atlanta; Birmingham, Ala.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Louisville, Ky.; Charleston, W.V.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; and Winston-Salem, N.C.

  • Midwest -- Chicago; Cleveland; Cincinnati; St. Louis; and Detroit

  • Southwest -- Dallas-Ft. Worth; Houston; and Phoenix

  • West -- Los Angeles; San Diego; San Francisco; Sacramento, Calif.; Fresno, Calif.; Eugene, Ore.; Seattle; Provo, Utah; and Salt Lake City

Air Pollution Health Threats Growing

It's the first time the annual report included information on particle pollution, which occurs when microscopic particles are released into the air by power plant emissions, diesel exhaust, and agricultural and wood burning, among other sources. These fine particles are easily inhaled deep in the lungs where they can penetrate the body's defense systems.

"Particle pollution is like an invisible army, wreaking havoc on your body through complicated mechanisms we're still sorting out," says Norman H. Edelman, MD, the American Lung Association's consultant for scientific affairs, in a news release. "Studies link particle pollution to increased risk of asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, lung cancer, and premature death, to name just a few of the ways this tiny army attacks."

The report shows particle pollution is now a widespread problem and is most prevalent in larges areas in the East, Midwest, and in California. In fact, 11 Midwestern cities ranked among 25 worst for year-round particle pollution levels, and six were in the 25 worst for short-term particle pollution.

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