Nearly half of all Americans - 133 million people - are breathing unhealthy air according to a new report by the Surface Transportation Policy Project. In fact, air quality in dozens of metropolitan areas has gotten worse over the last decade, while new scientific studies link air pollution to various public health issues including asthma, heart disease and certain cancers.
The report is entitled, "Clearing the Air, Public Health Threats from Cars and Heavy Duty Vehicles- Why We Need to Protect Federal Clean Air Laws." The report ranks metropolitan areas nationwide by the highest number of days of unhealthy air pollution levels over the last three years using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Riverside-San Bernardino in California ranked worst nationwide with 445 days of unhealthy air during 2000-2002 (an average of 148 days per year.)Other cities ranking in the top twelve worst include Fresno, CA; Los Angeles, CA;Sacramento, CA; Pittsburgh, PA;Knoxville, TN; Birmingham, AL;and Cleveland, OH. The report also includes state fact sheets that identify cities in each state with the worst air pollution.
Many metropolitan areas are suffering from a severe increase in air pollution, even though some progress has been made. Areas that experienced major increases in ozone pollution over the last decade include Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson, SC; Charlotte, NC; Akron, OH; Youngstown, OH; Knoxville, TN; and Memphis, TN.
The great increases in the amount of driving (up 162 percent since 1969) and the number of daily vehicle trips made (up 57 percent since 1969) have overwhelmed air quality gains that have been made from cleaner engine technologies.
Air pollutants from cars, buses and trucks, particularly ground-level ozone and particulate matter, can worsen respiratory diseases and trigger asthma attacks. Nationally, transportation is responsible for more than 50 percent of carbon monoxide. The public health costs of pollution from cars and trucks have been estimated at between $40 billion and $64 billion per year.Our largestmetro areas - New York, Chicago and Los Angeles - suffered an excess of one billion in public health costs.
The study concludes that transportation is a major contributor to air pollution nationwide. Apparently, some in Congress want to decrease clean air protections and cut funding for transportation alternatives. The Surface Transportation Policy Project recommends that instead, we protect and strengthen clean air laws, ensuring cities with air pollution problems have resources to address their problem, especially for health concerns from fine particulate matter, and allocate funding directly to the metro areas with unhealthy air. They further advise that the role of regional planning agencies should be strengthened in order to reduce transportation-related air pollution, while emphasizing cleaner vehicles and more convenient transportation options like mass transit, bicycling, and walking.
And Now, For Some Good NewsThe Greater Phoenix area, as well as Tucson, both fared rather well compared to other major metropolitan areas. Arizona cities did not make the list of the 50 worst cities our of the 100 cities that were analyzed. Here are some of the statistics provided by the report:
Total days of unhealthy air quality for the three year period from 2000 through 2002Phoenix: 26 Tucson: 3
Days of unhealthy ozone levels over five years from 1993 through 1997Phoenix: 13 Tucson: 1
Days of unhealthy ozone levels over five years from 1998 through 2002Phoenix: 9 Tucson: .4
This represents a better than 30% improvement for the Phoenix area over the previous five years, and a 60% improvement for Tucson.
This doesn't mean, of course, that our job in Arizona is done. Significant improvements have been made to improve our air quality, and hopefully we will continue on that path.