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California Cities Rank High On ‘Unhealthy Air’ Report

Alfred Palmer / Wikipedia

Alfred Palmer / Wikipedia

A report on air quality says more than four in 10 Americans live in counties where ozone or particle pollution levels make the air unhealthy to breathe. And most of those counties with "bad air" are in California.

The American Lung Association's "State of the Air 2015" report ranks cities and counties based on the number of "unhealthy days" for ozone and particle pollution. The Lung Association said ozone and particle pollution triggers asthma attacks and particle pollution can increase the risk of lung cancer.

In the San Joaquin Valley, Fresno-Madera was number one in the country for particle pollution and ozone.

"There was no surprise when the San Joaquin Valley or certain areas of the Valley receive an 'F' grade," said Anthony Presto with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. "But the Valley is making great strides and improvement in the air quality."

Presto said grants and incentives to replace diesel engines for trucks and farm equipment, along with upgrades to old wood fireplaces and stoves have helped to clean the air in the Valley.

"In the past couple of years, we have not exceeded the one-hour ozone standard," said Presto.

He said the continued drought creates another challenge in reducing particulate pollution in the San Joaquin Valley.

"With a lack of rain, dry soil creates more dust and particulate matter," said Presto. "In the winter, with little rain, more particulate matter from residential wood burning and other sources builds up in our valley's air."

The San Joaquin Valley was among six areas in the U.S., along with Visalia and greater San Francisco, that had a record number of days with elevated particle pollution, according to the report.

"Continuing drought and heat may have increased particles from dust, grass fires and wildfires, while burning wood as a heat source appears to contribute to the problem in many smaller cities," the report stated. 

Sacramento 'Making Progress'

The report ranked Sacramento-Roseville as the fifth-most ozone polluted city in the country. But Sacramento, along with Visalia and Los Angeles, was also among five cities in the U.S. with the fewest unhealthy days in the 16 years of the report. 

"The Sacramento Air District and other districts in California have many programs that continue to improve air quality," said Larry Greene, Executive Director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District. “We have made tremendous progress in air quality, including particulate matter. We plan to submit information to the federal Environmental Protection Agency this summer that shows we have met the national EPA standards.”

He said cleaner operating vehicles, and reducing wood stove smoke in the Sacramento Valley over the last five years has made a difference in reducing particulate pollution.

Greene said California and federal government agencies set the air quality standards that must be met by air pollution and air quality control districts.

'Climate Change A Factor'

The American Lung Association report also cited climate change as a factor in unhealthy air quality for the Western U.S., with heat and drought creating conditions that increase high particle pollution, a pollutant recently found to cause lung cancer.

"Overall, in many California cities, overall ozone pollution was lower than in the last report, but there were more unhealthy ozone days," according to the report.

Los Angeles was the metropolitan area with the worst ozone pollution, although the Lung Association said the area reported its lowest average year-round particles, and fewest high ozone days in the 16 years the report has been produced.

Salinas was considered one of six "cleanest cities" in the country in terms of air pollution.

The report said Salinas did not have any days with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution and ranked among the 25 cities with the lowest year-round particle levels.


Nation's Most Polluted Cities
Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Short-term Particle Pollution (24-hour PM 2.5)
Metropolitan Statistical Areas

1.    Fresno-Madera, Calif.

2.    Bakersfield, Calif.

3.    Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, Calif.

4.    Modesto-Merced, Calif.

5.    Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.

6.    San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, Calif.

7.    Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem, Utah

8.    Logan, UT-ID

9.    Fairbanks, Alaska

10.  Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, Penn.-Ohio-West Va.

Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Year-Round Particle Pollution (Annual PM 2.5)
Metropolitan Statistical Areas

1.    Fresno-Madera, Calif.

2.    Bakersfield, Calif.

3.    Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, Calif.

4.    Modesto-Merced, Calif.

5.    Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.

6.    El Centro, Calif.

7.    San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA

8.    Cincinnati-Wilmington-Maysville, OH-KY-IN

9.    Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, Penn.-Ohio-W.Va.

10.  Cleveland-Akron-Canton, OH

Top 10 Most Ozone-Polluted Cities
Metropolitan Statistical Areas

1.    Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.

2.    Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, Calif.

3.    Bakersfield, Calif.

4.    Fresno-Madera, Calif.

5.    Sacramento-Roseville, Calif.

6.    Houston-The Woodlands, Texas

7.    Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas-Okla.

8.    Modesto-Merced, Calif.

9.    Las Vegas-Henderson, Nev.-Ariz.

10.  Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz.