April 19, 2017

Report: CT remains nation's ozone 'tailpipe'

Flickr user Casey Kelley
Flickr user Casey Kelley
Vehicle emissions are a key contributor to ground-level ozone, or smog, which can cause health problems.

Ozone pollution remained relatively high in Connecticut between 2013 and 2015, according to the American Lung Association, which for the second year in a row assigned a failing grade to seven of eight Nutmeg State counties.

The ALA has been issuing annual air-quality reports for the past 18 years that analyze geographically the number of days with high levels of ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog, and particle pollution, or soot.

When inhaled, both types of pollution can cause health problems, such as increased susceptibility to infection, cardiovascular harm, shortness of breath, wheezing, asthma attacks, reproductive harm, and other conditions, ALA said in its latest report released Wednesday.

Ozone — created through chemical reactions from pollutants emitted by vehicles, power plants, gasoline vapors and other sources — is a larger problem for the Northeast than the more insidious particle pollution, which has been linked to a higher risk of cancer death.

Winds can carry ozone pollution far distances, which means Connecticut's ozone isn't necessarily generated within its borders.

"These grades show that Connecticut still suffers from being the 'tailpipe of the nation' for ozone," said Jeff Seyler, CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast.

Gov. Dannel Malloy and officials from eight other downwind Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states earlier this month urged the Environmental Protection Agency to force upwind states in the Midwest and South to reduce air pollution.

Fairfield County was 17th most ozone polluted county in the country in ALA's recent report, up from 24th in the 2012-2014 period.

Meanwhile, the Hartford metro area was the 21st most ozone polluted in the country in the recent period, joining two other Northeast metros on the top 25 list, according to ALA.

That was despite the fact that Hartford County's weighted average number of high ozone days ticked down in the 2013-2015 period compared to the 2012-2014 period.

In addition, Hartford County continued to be one of 82 U.S. counties with the lowest level of short-term particle pollution.

All Connecticut counties graded in the report received a passing grade for particle pollution.

"Contrary to Connecticut's troubling grades on ozone, the [report] found continued low levels of year-round [soot] levels in Connecticut during 2013-2015, a likely result of ongoing steps under the Clean Air Act: cleaning up power plants and retiring old, dirty diesel engines," ALA said.

The ALA uses a different methodology to measure air pollution than the EPA, which has regulatory authority over air standards.

The EPA determines if a county violates an air pollution standard based on the four days in a year with the highest pollution.

"By contrast, the system used in this [ALA] report recognizes when a community's air quality repeatedly results in unhealthy air throughout the three years," ALA said. "Consequently, some counties will receive grades of "F" in this report, showing repeated instances of unhealthy air, while still meeting the EPA's 2015 ozone standard."

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