The levels of particle pollution and smog locally have dropped in recent years, meaning Loudoun County residents are likely breathing in cleaner air these days, according to an American Lung Association (ALA) report released Wednesday.
Still, despite the progress, Loudoun earned a “D” grade in the ALA's "State of the Air 2013" -- tracking air quality from 2009-2011 -- because of the county's high ozone levels and number of “orange” days, those with highly-polluted air. In the region, Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax scored “Fs” while Prince William earned a “C.” The highest marks nearby came from Fauquier County, which scored an “A.”
Given Northern Virginia's notoriously clogged roadways, the bulk of Loudoun's ozone pollution comes from automobiles. Additionally, the region catches industrial and power plant pollution drifting from West Virginia and Ohio, said Laura Kate Anderson Bender, Virginia Healthy Air Coalition coordinator.
“It’s great news that Loudoun’s air is cleaner than it was in last year’s report,” Bender said. “The county had fewer days of dangerous levels of both ozone and particle pollution, and that’s a real step forward for people’s health.”
Unfortunately, Bender noted, the Washington, D.C. area didn't fare as well. The D.C. metropolitan region recorded more ozone pollution in the 2013 report than in the 2012 version, and the District was listed as the ninth most smog-polluted city in the country.
“We’ve come a long way since the first State of the Air report 14 years ago, but we still have a long way to go before our air is truly safe for everyone to breathe,” Bender said.
The ALA's annual “State of the Air” report surveys the nation's quality using recent air pollution data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency. The data comes from monitors for two of the most common forms of pollution – ozone (smog) and particle pollution (soot).
The ALA considers ozone – created by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other sources – the most widespread air pollutant. When inhaled, ozone irritates the lungs and can cause immediate health problems such as wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death, according to the ALA. People at greatest risk from air pollution include infants, children, older adults, anyone with lung diseases like asthma and people with heart disease or diabetes. Moreover, low-income Americans and people who work outdoors are more prone to pollution-related health issues.
Some of the most polluted areas in the country in the report included the Los Angeles metropolitan region and a slew of other cities in California, the Houston metropolitan area and the Pittsburgh region.
ALA has long lobbied for more stringent regulations and air pollution limits within the federal Clean Air Act, something they got in late 2012 when the EPA tightened the national ambient air quality standards for the annual average level of fine particulate matter
“The evidence is clear that the Clean Air Act delivers significant health benefits,” Kimberly Williams, advocacy and communications manager for the American Lung Association, said in a prepared statement. “Congress needs to continue to ensure that the provisions under the Clean Air Act are protected and are enforced. EPA and every state must have adequate funding to monitor and protect our citizens from air pollution.”
For more information specifically on Loudoun County's results, click here. The full "State of the Air 2013" report can be found here.
Correction: This story has been updated to show the years covered in the “State of the Air 2013” report are 2009-2011.