Metropolitan Chicago got another grade of F for the cleanliness of the air we breathe — showing no improvement from last year, a new report shows.
The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2014” ranked Chicago as the 14th-most polluted city in the nation for short-term particle pollution. The city also ranked 20th for most ozone-polluted and for year-round particle pollution. All of those are worse rankings than in last year’s report.
Ozone, often called smog, develops from gases that come out of tailpipes, smokestacks and other sources. Particle pollution is a mixture of solid and liquid particles found in the air.
“The air in Chicago is certainly cleaner than when we started the ‘State of the Air’ report 15 years ago,” said Mike Kolleng, Manager of the Healthy Air Campaign in a statement. “However, there is still work to be done to reduce year-round particle pollution.”
The report found that nearly half of all Americans live in counties where ozone or particle pollution levels make the air unhealthy to breathe. And 22 of the most-polluted cities had more unhealthy ozone days than in the previous year’s report, including Chicago.
Kolleng said they expect to see more of these unhealthy ozone days in the future as climate change gets worse. Climate change causes unpredictable impacts on weather patterns, especially heat waves and drought. Those, in turn, contribute to ozone formation, Kolleng said.
The five worst cities in all three categories were from California. Los Angeles had the worst ozone, and Fresno topped the lists for both short-term and year-round particle pollution.
The cities with the cleanest air were Bangor, Maine; Bismarck, N.D.; Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.; and Salinas, Calif.
Studies have linked breathing ozone to an increased risk of premature death and difficulty breathing, as well as other serious issues. Similarly, particle pollution can increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks and can interfere with the growth and work of the lungs, the American Lung Association says.
The association said most of the steps that need to be taken to reduce the air pollution involve action on the federal or state level, such as getting the Environmental Protection Agency to set a strong, health-based standard to limit ozone pollution.