AUGUSTA — Aroostook County recently made the list of cleanest counties for ozone pollution with no days rated unhealthy, according to the 16th annual State of the Air report issued by the American Lung Association.
The County’s ozone grade remained an A, the same as in 2014, the report states. In addition, short-term particle pollution improved from a B to an A, with zero unhealthy days, and the annual particle pollution level was slightly improved from last year.
Overall, Maine is experiencing less year-round and short-term particle pollution, but worsening ozone pollution in some areas, according to the report. While Bangor is again ranked as one of the cleanest cities in the country for particle pollution, York County saw its grade drop to an “F” for ozone pollution.
In keeping with a trend seen across the nation, Maine’s particle pollution grades improved, with all monitored counties receiving grades of A, but southern and coastal Maine experienced unhealthy levels of ozone pollution, leaving Cumberland, Knox, and Hancock Counties with grades of C on this year’s report. Last year Bangor was one of the four cleanest cities for both particulates and ozone, but this year Penobscot County’s grade for ozone dropped to a B.
“We are thrilled to be celebrating perfect grades across the state for particle pollution,” said Effie Craven, healthy air coordinator for the American Lung Association in Maine. “This is a wonderful example of what happens when the Clean Air Act is allowed to work as intended, cleaning up smokestacks and tailpipes in order to make our air healthier. But it’s not all good news, especially if you live in southern or coastal Maine, where unhealthy ozone levels persist and can lead to asthma attacks, reduced lung function, and expensive hospital admissions.”
The State of the Air report looks at both ozone and particle pollution. Ozone, or smog, is created by the reaction of warm air and sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other pollution sources. When inhaled, it irritates the lungs and can cause immediate health problems including wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and even premature death.
Particle pollution, called fine particulate matter or soot, is a mixture of very tiny solid and liquid particles which come directly from car exhaust, wood fires, coal burning power plants and other smokestacks. The body’s natural defenses, coughing and sneezing, can fail to keep these microscopic particles from burrowing deep within the lungs. Particle pollution can trigger asthma and heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, and early death.
Nationwide, more than 4 in 10 Americans – nearly 138.5 million people – live in counties where ozone or particle pollution levels make the air unhealthy to breathe, according to State of the Air 2015.
“Maine can certainly be proud of the progress we’ve made in cleaning up our air,” said Jeff Seyler, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “And while we can celebrate the continued reduction in particle pollution here in Maine and across the nation, thanks in large part to cleaner vehicles and fuels, we need to be doing even more to make the air healthy for all of us to breathe.”
Last fall the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed strengthening the federal ozone standard, currently set at 75 parts per billion (ppb), to a more protective level in the range of 65-70 ppb.
In its State of the Air 2015 report, the ALA calls for strengthening outdated ozone standards, adopting a strong clean power plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, protecting the Clean Air Act and funding healthy air efforts.
“Our work to clean up the air is far from finished,” Craven added. “We need to adopt a federal ozone standard that follows the law and protects health. We need to clean up carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, and we need to defend the Clean Air act from being undermined and weakened by industry polluters. These three actions would make a tremendous difference in our efforts to improve health and lower health costs for families and businesses.”