Four Questions Reporters Should Ask about the American Lung Association’s ‘State of the Air’ Report

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”’Today (May 1) the American Lung Association (ALA) will release its annual “State of the Air” report on air pollution levels in American cities. Like previous “State of the Air” reports, it is alarmist, claiming that “nearly half of the US population” lives in areas with dangerous levels of air pollution. Reason Senior Fellow Joel Schwartz and the Pacific Research Institute’s Steve Hayward, however, provide powerful evidence to debunk the ALA report. For example, they note in their report that “the ALA gave San Diego an ‘F’ for air quality, claiming that San Diego experienced 16 exceedences per year of the EPA ozone standard. In fact, only a single rural location, Alpine, exceeded the 8-hour ozone standard more than 2 times per year. 99.7 percent of people in San Diego County breathe air that meets both the EPA 8-hour and 1-hour ozone standards.” For the full analysis, see below or log onto:”’

Before taking this year’s American Lung Association report at face value, reporters should ask the ALA report’s authors a few questions to clarify the report’s biases.


*1. Is air quality in California, and the U.S. as a whole, better or worse than it was 10 years ago? Five years ago?

Discussion: Air pollution has been declining for decades. While southern California’s air pollution remains the highest in the nation, southern California has made more progress than any other region. Figure 1 displays the improving trend in exceedences of the 1-hour ozone standard. National compliance with the 1-hour ozone standard went from about 50 percent in the early 1980s to 87 percent today.

About 40 percent of U.S. monitoring locations still exceed EPA’s stringent new 8-hour ozone standard, but 8-hour ozone levels have been dropping as well. Virtually the entire nation (>99 percent) now meets all federal health standards for carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide. More than 96 percent of the nation complies with PM10 standards (particulate matter under 10 micrometers in diameter), and the compliance rate is about 70 percent for EPA’s stringent new annual PM2.5 standard. PM2.5 declined 33 percent between 1980 and 2000, with the most polluted areas once again achieving the greatest reductions (see Figure 2 for PM trends).

These declining trends will continue in the coming decade (see discussion of question 4 below).

*2. Is every single person in each city or county with an “F” grade exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution?

[If the ALA spokesperson says “Yes” to this question, it will mean they do not know what they are talking about and reporters can stop taking notes. See discussion below.]

Follow up question: For each county, “State of the Air” lists the number of days per year exceeding the 8-hour ozone standard. How many individual monitoring locations in a given county exceeded the ozone standard that many times per year? [The correct answer is zero for almost all counties with more than one ozone monitoring site (see Figure 6 below).]

Discussion: ALA