Tuesday, May 01, 2007

U.S. air pollution: less smog, but more soot in East

Yahoo! News
U.S. air pollution: less smog, but more soot in East
By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

The United States is less smoggy than it used to be, but dangerous soot particles are rising in the densely populated eastern part of the country, the American Lung Association reported on Tuesday.

In its annual State of the Air report, the group applauded reductions in smog since its peak in 2002, and blamed the rise in soot -- also called particle pollution -- on coal-fired power plants in the East.

"Particle pollution is lethal, it can kill you," the association's Janice Nolen said in a telephone interview. Fine soot particles can get trapped deep in the lungs and can lead to heart attack, stroke, lung cancer and asthma attacks, Nolen said.

Major sources of soot also include emissions from diesel vehicles including school buses, barges, trucks, tugboats and construction equipment, she said.

Even as the national level of ozone declined, a key component of smog, 99 million people in the United States live in counties with failing grades for ozone, according to the report.

"We're calling on EPA (Environmental Protection Administration) to set new standards for ozone at levels that would protect public health as the Clean Air Act requires," said Terri Weaver, the lung association's chair, in a statement.

The lung association checked for three kinds of pollution: ozone and two kinds of soot -- short-term and year-round exposure -- and found that 136 million people lived in U.S. counties with unhealthy levels of at least one of the three.

Los Angeles was ranked as the most polluted U.S. city for all three categories, even though the report found pollution levels have dropped there. Houston, Dallas, New York, Washington and Philadelphia were among the worst cities for ozone pollution.

Washington and Philadelphia were also on the list of the cities with the most soot. Others were Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Baltimore.

The report, available online at www.lungusa.org, is based on data from 2003 to 2005, Nolen said.

It was released hours after the Environmental Protection Administration offered preliminary data from 2006 that levels of six pollutants, including ozone and particulate matter, have declined 54 percent since 1970, when the U.S. Clean Air Act became law.

Also on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear arguments from the Bush administration and industry to change part of the Clean Air Act that requires coal-fired power plants to install modern pollution safeguards when updating the rest of their facilities.