86% Connecticut residents satisfied with air quality despite high pollution levels

The results of a Gallup poll, conducted in December 2013, show that 86% of Connecticut residents are satisfied with the state’s air quality.

The nationwide poll preceded the Obama administration’s new emission rules.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a draft proposal last week that seeks to cut carbon emissions by 30% from fossil fuel-burning power plants by 2030.

According to the Gallup poll, Utah residents are the least satisfied with their state’s air quality, while residents in South Dakota, North Dakota and Wyoming are most satisfied. Connecticut’s satisfaction rating, according to Gallup, is “average.”

In general, air quality does not appear to be a major problem for residents of most states, according to Gallup, which also noted that satisfaction differences may exist within each state, but the survey sample sizes did not allow for such analysis.

State of the Air

On April 30, the American Lung Association released its 2014 State of the Air report, which looks at ozone and particle pollution levels in each state.

Report findings are based on levels found in official monitoring sites across the United States in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

According to the report: more than 47% of Americans, or 147.6 million people, live where pollution levels are “too often dangerous to breathe,” which is an increase from last year’s State of the Air report.

The American Lung Association’s report examines year-round particle pollution level averages, as well as 24-hour or “short-term” averages.

“Thanks to stronger standards for pollutants and for the sources of pollution, the United States has seen continued reduction in ozone and particle pollution as well as other pollutants for decades,” states the 2014 report.

Aside from a continued reduction in ozone and particle pollution, the State of the Air report also noted the following trends:

  • Lower year-round particle pollution levels.
  • Higher average of high ozone days in 22 of the 25 most ozone-polluted cities.
  • Continued progress in most cities in the long-term trend for fewer days with high particle pollution.

Air quality report card

The State of the Air report graded each state’s counties based on high ozone and particle pollution days.

Fairfield County received an F for high ozone days and a C for  short-term high particle pollution days. Annual high particle pollution days were judged on a pass-or-fail basis,  and Fairfield County passed.

While six of Connecticut’s eight counties received F’s for high ozone days, Litchfield County received the highest grade in the state: C.

Windham County had incomplete results, so it was excluded form the grading analysis.

In terms of short-term, 24-hour high particle pollution days, two Connecticut counties — Litchfield and New London — received A’s, while Hartford received a B  and New Haven received a C.

Since there are no data-collecting monitors in Tolland, Windham and Middlesex Counties, no analysis could be conducted for particle pollution days.

Aside from those three counties, the rest of Connecticut passed the annual high particle pollution days analysis.

According to the State of the Air report, high ozone days in Fairfield County have decreased by an average of 15.8 days per year since 1996, and short-term particle pollution has decreased by an average of 2.6 days per year since 2000.

Year-round particle pollution averages are steadily dropping, according to the report, but the trend for short-term spokes in high particle counts can vary from year to year. These spikes, the report states, often occur in the winter due to increased burning of wood and other fuels.

Health effects of ozone pollution

"Ozone aggressively attacks lung tissue by reacting chemically with it," according to the State of the Air report, and "ozone air pollution at ground level where we can breathe it...causes serious health problems."

The EPA has concluded that ozone pollution poses the following health threats:

  • Causes respiratory harm, such as worsened asthma, worsened chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and inflammation.
  • Short-term and long-term exposure are likely to cause early death.
  • May cause harm to the central nervous system.
  • May cause reproductive and developmental harm.

Although anyone who spends time outdoors in an area with high ozone pollution levels is at risk, according to the report, there are five groups of people who are especially vulnerable to the effects of breathing ozone:

  • Children and teens.
  • People over 65 years of age.
  • People who work or exercise outdoors.
  • People with existing lung diseases.
  • People with cardiovascular disease.

The higher the ozone levels and the faster an individual is breathing while outside in a high ozone level area, the more at-risk he or she is, states the report.

Health effects of particle pollution

The EPA has concluded that particle pollution poses the following health threats:

  • Early death, from both short-term and long-term exposure.
  • Cardiovascular harm, such as heart attacks, strokes, heart disease and congestive heart failure.
  • Likely to cause respiratory harm, such as worsened asthma, worsened COPD and inflammation.
  • May cause cancer and reproductive and developmental harm.

Although anyone living in an area with high levels of particle pollution are at risk,  according to the State of the Air report, the following groups of people are at the greatest risk:

  • Infants, children and teens.
  • People over 65 years of age.
  • People with lung disease, such as asthma and COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
  • People with heart disease or diabetes.
  • People with low incomes.
  • People who work or are active outdoors.

Protection and prevention

The American Lung Association provided the following tips to help people minimize their exposure to ozone and particle pollution:

  • Pay attention to forecasts for high air pollution days to know when to take precautions.
  • Avoid exercising near high-traffic areas.
  • Avoid exercising outdoors when pollution level are high, or substitute an activity that requires less exertion.
  • Do not let anyone smoke indoors and support measures to make all places smoke-free.
  • Reduce the use of fireplaces and wood-burning stoves.

Read the full 2014 State of the Air report here.

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