'State of the Air' 2017 Report Finds Louisville Air Quality Worsened

Despite continued improvement in U.S. air quality, local residents remain at risk from health effects of unhealthy air according to new report from the American Lung Association

LOUISVILLE KY (04/19/2017) (readMedia)-- EMBARGOED UNTIL 12:01 AM, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 19

Editor's Note: Trend Charts and rankings for metropolitan areas, county grades are available at Lung.org/sota

The American Lung Association's 2017 "State of the Air" report found Louisville has earned overall mixed grades for the three most common forms of hazardous air pollution.

In fact Louisville ranked as the thirteenth-most polluted city in the nation for worst long-term particle pollution. Compared to the previous report, Louisville has seen an increase in ozone slightly. This is in spite of a trend seen across the nation of lower ozone pollution levels.

"According to the 2017 'State of the Air,' people in the Louisville area are at risk of unhealthful levels of ozone, putting them at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, worsened COPD symptoms and cardiovascular harm.

The most notable national findings of the 18th annual report were lower overall ozone levels and lower year-round particle levels, offset by a continued trend of extreme short-term spikes in particle pollution, often related to wildfires or droughts. The report finds that the health of 43 million people across the country are at risk from these dangerous spikes in particle pollution.

Each year the "State of the Air" reports on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution (smog) and particle pollution (soot). The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and can be lethal. But the trends reported in this year's report, which covers data collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2013-2015, are strikingly different for these pollutants, nationwide, and in Louisville .

Ozone Pollution in Louisville

Compared to the 2017 report, Louisville experienced less unhealthy days of high ozone in this year's report, but still had a failing grade.

"Ozone is harmful to public health and especially children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases. When they breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor's office, the hospital or the emergency room," said Heather Wehrheim, Advocacy Director, American Lung Association.

Nationwide, ozone pollution has decreased, thanks to the Clean Air Act's success at cleaning up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles. However, research shows that climate change causes warmer temperatures, which makes ozone harder to clean up.

Particle Pollution in Louisville

"State of the Air" 2017 found year-round particle pollution (soot) levels in Louisville during 2013-2015 were improved more than the previous year's report. Nationwide, the best progress in this year's report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution.

Jefferson County, KY, the most polluted county in the area, reduced its level of year-round particle pollution to 11.7 µg/m3 in 2012-2014 from the 12.5 µg/m3 reported in 2012-2014. For the first time, the county meets the national annual PM2.5 standard set in 2012.

Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel engines, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes. They can even cause lung cancer, and early death.

"Across the country, year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines," said Heather Wehrheim "This is something we've benefited from in the Louisville region, as we've seen a reduction in our year-round particle counts."

Short-term spikes in particle pollution can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. According to the 2017 report, Louisville has more days when short-term particle pollution has reached unhealthy levels in 2013-2015. This is in keeping with the national trend of increased short-term spikes in particle pollution.

Climate is known to cause increased heat, changes in weather patterns, drought and wildfires, which contributed to the extraordinarily high numbers of days with unhealthy particle pollution in some cities, including Louisville. Many of these spikes in Louisville were directly linked to weather patterns like drought , which are likely to increase because of climate change and high emissions from wood-burning devices.

"Healthy air protections are under attack, and must be defended to save lives here and across the country. Air travels from one state to another, so only federal protections can help protect the air we all breathe," said Wehrheim. "The Lung Association in Kentucky calls on President Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and members of Congress to fully fund, implement and enforce the Clean Air Act for all air pollutants – including those that drive climate change and make it harder to ensure healthy air for all Americans."

Learn more about Louisville rankings, as well as air quality across Kentucky and the nation in the 2017 "State of the Air" report at Lung.org/sota.

For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health and healthy air, contact the American Lung Association in Kentucky at heather.wehrheim@lung.org or 502-759-2889.