Flathead County Scores Straight A’s in State of the Air Report

By Beacon Staff

Residents in Flathead County can breathe a sign of relief following the release of the annual State of the Air report on Wednesday.

The American Lung Association awarded Flathead straight A’s for air quality in its 14th annual nationwide survey. The report grades local data for the two most widespread types of air pollution: smog and soot.

Flathead County received top scores for both ozone (smog) and short-term particle pollution (soot) levels.

Particle pollution is a mixture of small particulates, including chemicals, metals and soil or dust matter. It’s most commonly found in smoke or haze. For ozone pollution, the report gauges average smog levels over an eight-hour period each day.

A majority of the counties in Montana did not receive grades due to incomplete or the lack of monitoring data. Among the communities successfully surveyed, Silver Bow, Ravalli and Lewis and Clark received failing grades for particle pollution. Missoula received a D. Lincoln and Gallatin counties received C’s. Sanders and Richland counties were the only others to earn A’s.

The State of the Air report judges pollution levels that are commonly present, and the grades are based off local data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency and state, tribal and federal agencies. The latest report collected information from 2009 to 2011.

Air pollution remains a pervasive health threat in the U.S., according to the ALA, although the latest report shows a positive long-term trend is emerging.

Four cities made all three of the cleanest cities lists, the most ever to land on all three lists. Eighteen cities reported lower year-round levels of particle pollution, including 16 cities with their lowest levels recorded, according to the ALA.

Yet, more than 131 million people, or 42 percent of the U.S. population, still live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution, according to the latest State of the Air report.

Dangerous levels of ozone or particle pollution can results in short-term health issues, such as wheezing or coughing, or more severe problems like asthma and heart attacks, according to the ALA.

California had several metropolitan cities rank as some of the nation’s worst for pollution. Los Angeles was ranked as the most polluted city in the U.S. for smog. Bakersfield was No. 1 for year-round and short-term particle pollution. The top six smoggiest cities were all in California. California also had the top seven cities with the most year-round particle pollution and top five for short-term pollution. Salt Lake City ranked as the sixth worst city for short-term air particles.

Ames-Boone in Iowa ranked as the cleanest cities for ozone pollution, followed by Bellingham, Wash., and Bend-Prineville, Ore. Cheyenne, Wyo., ranked as the cleanest city for year-round particulates, and Asheville-Brevard, NC, is the cleanest for short-term.

Here’s a complete list of the nation’s rankings.

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