Odds Are, You're Breathing Bad Air
Welcome, sulphur dioxide,
Hello, carbon monoxide,
The air, the air is ev'rywhere.
- from the 1968 musical "Hair," lyrics by James Rado
& Gerome Ragni
May 1, 2002 -- If you're an American, you're probably breathing
bad air. For the third straight year, more than half of U.S. residents live in
areas with dangerous smog.
The finding comes from the 2002 edition of the American Lung
Association's annual State of the Air report. The bottom line: of the 678 U.S.
counties monitoring air, nearly 400 get an "F" grade from the ALA. The
failing grade means that these areas had levels of ozone -- a major ingredient
in smog -- that made the air unhealthy to breathe for at least nine days.
Part of every year's State of the Air message is a ranking of
the best and worst air in the nation. Here are the 10 most polluted urban
- Los Angeles (Riverside/Orange counties)
- Bakersfield, Calif.
- Fresno, Calif.
- Visalia-Tulare-Porterville, Calif.
- Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, Texas.
- Merced, Calif.
- Knoxville, Tenn.
- Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC
- Sacramento, Calif.
And, in alphabetical order, here are the 11 urban areas with
the least air pollution:
- Bellingham, Wash.
- Colorado Springs, Co.
- Duluth-Superior, Minn.-Wisc.
- Fargo-Moorhead, N.D.-Minn.
- Flagstaff, Ariz.
- Honolulu, Hawaii.
- Laredo, Texas.
- Lincoln, Neb.
- McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas
- Salinas, Calif.
- Spokane, Wash.
So which people are most at risk? Children, of course, and
people with chronic lung diseases. But you're not off the hook if you're
healthy. Athletes and people who work outdoors are also at increased risk of
lung damage from air pollution, says Norman H. Edelman, MD. Edelman is the
ALA's scientific consultant and is vice-president and dean of the SUNY-Stony
Brook School of Medicine.
"We've still got a big problem. I get very frustrated,"
Edelman tells WebMD. "It is personal for me. I take care of a lot of asthma
patients. They tell me when they can breathe and when they cannot. And very
often they cannot."
This year, Edelman and the ALA want you to help. The
public-health organization is asking people to write to their elected
representatives and to President Bush to demand enforcement of existing
clean-air regulations. For the first time, the ALA is providing an easy way to
write these letters at their web site, lungusa.org.
"The EPA has adopted a set of more stringent rules, but
they haven't put them into force. For us that is a big issue," Edelman
says. "If the EPA would enforce their new standards we would be in good
shape. They have not done so."
Why support enforcement of existing regulations when President
Bush has just announced his "Clear Skies" initiative?
- Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's director of
regulatory enforcement quit in frustration. He cited huge cuts in enforcement
staff and claimed that the White House and the Department of Energy have
hampered ongoing enforcement actions.
- Enforcing the Clean Air Act would reduce power-plant emissions -- and do it
years faster -- than the "Clear Skies" initiative.
Meanwhile, you can do a lot to protect yourself -- and your
community -- from air pollution. Here are some tips:
- Fill gas tanks after dusk. Pumping gas releases chemicals that generate
ozone in daylight.
- Keep your car in good repair.
- Use mass transit -- or walk -- whenever you can. Cars are a major source of
- Consider buying an electric car for short trips or for travel to mass
transit parking lots.
- If you run or walk for exercise, do it in the morning when pollution levels
- On very bad air days, don't exercise outdoors.
- If you suffer from asthma or chronic lung disease, stay indoors and use
your air conditioner on very bad air days. Ask your doctor about taking extra
medicine to prevent complications on these days.