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Air Pollution Improving in West Virginia But, There's More Ozone

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A report just released by American Lung Association, “State of the Air 2014,” shows air pollution in West Virginia’s metropolitan areas has generally improved but, there’s more ozone, or smog, in every county where it was measured.

Health Risks

Kevin Stewart, American Lung Association’s director of environmental health for the mid-Atlantic region, explains that particle pollution—sometimes called soot pollution—is the matter in the air expelled from sources like exhaust pipes or industrial plants. It’s the fine, microscopic dust sometimes small enough to pass directly into the blood streams through the lungs. And it can not only exacerbate respiratory health problems, but also cause heart problems.  

“Most people don’t think about air pollution causing heart problems but it does,” Stewart said.

The Lung Association’s 2014 report indicates that the overall ambient air quality throughout the state with regard to particle pollution is improving, or at least throughout every county where it was measured. He says measures takes to clean up the air seem to be taking effect.

But then there’s ozone. Stewart says way up in the sky, ozone is a good thing. It protects us from harmful rays from the sun. But down here on the ground, it’s a major health hazard.

The State of the Air in West Virginia

The report indicates that ozone levels have pretty much gotten worse throughout the country. That’s true in West Virginia and especially in the Charleston-Huntington area, which ranked worst in the state.

Some grades around the state: 

  • The Lung Assoication gave Kanawha County a D last year.
  • This year’s report combines Kanawha and Cabell counties with several others and gives the areas an F and D, respectively.
  • Other Counties that has worse ozone pollution than last year include Wood, Monongalia and Hancock.

You can find your town's grade with this tool:

The American Lung Association says the worsening ozone levels likely can be attributed to warmer 2012 temperatures, reflecting national trends.

From the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection echoes the Lung Association’s reports saying air quality has and continues to improve, even in areas like the northern gas fields, despite increased drilling activity.

The DEP reports, however that there are issues with sulfur dioxide in Brooke and Marshall Counties related to large industrial sources like power plants that are located there. In fact the Lung Association’s report indicates that Marshall County was worst in the state for its long-term particle pollution level. That’s despite the fact that the Wheeling, WV-OH metro area had its lowest year-round particle pollution levels in the 15-year history (although it’s still 19th-worst nationwide!).

Change Is (Still Needed) In The Air

Stewart, from the American Lung Association, says there are several things to remember when considering this data.

First of all, the system we have needs to be improved. Many counties with lower populations don’t require air monitoring, for example. Boone, McDowell, Mingo, and Wyoming, just to name a few. And in many of the areas where air quality is monitored, the actually monitoring might not take place in the most telling spots. And he says there are limits to the monitoring technology.

Moreover, Stewart says current air quality standards are still inadequate to protect public health.

“Even if you meet the standards,” he said, “you can still have adverse health effects from the air pollution. The Lung Association believes that we need to improve the air quality standards so that we don’t have that kind of scenario going on.”

No one will deny, Steward says, that the country today is not the same country it was 40 years ago. Standards have certainly improved. But he asserts that current circumscribed standards of air quality still leave the public footing many hidden health and standard of living costs.

What To Do:

The Lung Association lists several ways to personally combat bad air quality. Some of them include:

  • Drive less.Combine trips, walk, bike, carpool or vanpool, and use buses, subways or other alternatives to driving. Vehicle emissions are a major source of air pollution. Support community plans that provide ways to get around that don't require a car, such as more sidewalks, bike trails and transit systems.
  • Use less electricity. Turn out the lights and use energy-efficient appliances. Generating electricity is one of the biggest sources of pollution, particularly in the eastern United States.
  • Don't burn wood or trash. Burning firewood and trash are among the largest sources of particles in many parts of the country. If you must use a fireplace or stove for heat, convert your woodstoves to natural gas, which has far fewer polluting emissions. Compost and recycle as much as possible and dispose of other waste properly; don’t burn it. Support efforts in your community to ban outdoor burning of construction and yard wastes. Avoid the use of outdoor hydronic heaters, also called outdoor wood boilers, which are frequently much more polluting than woodstoves.
  • Make sure your local school system requires clean school buses, which includes replacing or retrofitting old school buses with filters and other equipment to reduce emissions. Make sure your local schools don’t idle their buses, a step that can immediately reduce emissions.

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