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58% of Americans Live Where the Air is Dangerous to Breathe

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A report released by the American Lung Association found progress in the fight against air pollution, but shows that more than half of Americans live in areas where air is unhealthy.

The report, State of the Air 2010, used air pollution data collected in 2006, 2007 and 2008 to create a “report card” and assign grades to cities and counties. It based the grades upon measurements of the two most widespread types of air pollution: ozone (smog), and annual and short-term particle pollution (soot, dust and aerosols).

"State of the Air 2010 proves with hard data that cleaning up air pollution produces healthier air," said Mary H. Partridge, American Lung Association National Board Chair said in a release. "However, more needs to be done. We are working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on additional measures that will require even greater clean up of power plants. We are also calling for additional funding to install equipment to clean up the 20 million dirty diesel vehicles currently on the road polluting U.S. cities every day."

Twenty cities with the highest levels of year round pollution improved their annual average levels since the 2009 report and cities throughout the country improved short-term levels of particle pollution. The report attributed the improvements to a decade of anti-pollution measures such as reducing coal-fired power plant emissions, cleaner diesel fuels and engines.

Fargo, ND and Lincoln, NE ranked among the cleanest in all three air pollution categories.

The improvements were not nationwide. Some cities, mostly in California, had an increase in air pollution since the previous report. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, CA ranked #1 in ozone pollution, #3 in year round particle pollution and #4 in short term particle pollution and Bakersfield, CA ranked #2 for ozone, #2 in year round particle and #1 in short term particle pollutions.

Despite the progress, the report found that 175 million Americans, or about 58%, still suffer pollution levels that are too often dangerous to breathe. 28.9 million Americans live in counties that failed all three tests for ozone, annual and short-term particle pollution. Learn how you can protect yourself.

Air pollution causes health effects such as reducing life expectancy, triggering asthma attacks and contributing to higher risks for heart attack, allergies, premature births, death of infants shortly after birth, increased risk of hospitalization for pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

People who exercise or work outdoors and those who work in an occupation such as tractor-trailer driver who must breathe diesel exhaust on the job are at higher risk for air pollution related health conditions. Pollution is especially dangerous to children.

"The American Lung Association is calling for Congress to pass the Clean Air Act Amendments of 2010, which will cut emissions from coal-fired power plants that create particle pollution and ozone," said Charles D. Connor, American Lung Association President and CEO. "The Lung Association also calls on Congress to also ensure that only clean diesel equipment is used in federally-funded construction projects, and to provide funds for the cleanup of existing diesel engines. The EPA needs to finish measures to clean up power plants, strengthen national standards for outdoor air pollutants—especially ozone and particle pollution—and set tough new standards to require the cleanup of nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons and particle emissions from cars."

"Americans can take steps today and every day that will improve air quality immediately and ultimately impact climate change as well," Connor added. "Drive less. Don’t burn wood or trash. Use less electricity, and make sure your local school system requires clean school buses."

What’s the State of Your Air? See how the report grades your city.