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More Than Half of Americans Breathing Polluted Air, American Lung Association Study Says

May 2, 2002 | Associated Press

Half the U.S. population is breathing unhealthy amounts of air pollution, according to a survey by the American Lung Association.

The findings, released Wednesday as part of the group's annual "State of the Air" report, show that more than 142 million Americans live in places with high levels of ozone air pollution, commonly known as smog.

The report examines ozone air quality data taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 1998 to 2000. Nearly 700 counties that were monitored across the country are ranked according to how often their air quality reached "unhealthful" levels of air pollution.

The areas with the worst pollution were Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County, California; Bakersfield, California; Fresno, California; Visalia-Tulare-Porterville, California; Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, Texas; Atlanta; Merced, California; Knoxville, Tennessee; Charlotte-Gastonia, North Carolina; Rock Hill, South Carolina; and Sacramento-Yolo, California.

"The areas we're talking about represent some of the most densely populated areas in the country so naturally we're going to have more people affected in those areas," said Janice Nolen, director of national policy for the American Lung Association. "But in some areas, it may be things like power plants contributing to the pollution."

The group also named several cities that had relatively clean air: Bellingham, Washington; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Duluth, Minnesota; Superior, Wisconsin; Fargo, North Dakota; Moorhead, Minnesota; Flagstaff, Arizona; Honolulu; Laredo, Texas; Lincoln, Nebraska; McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas; Salinas, California; and Spokane, Washington.

"We want to make sure that people recognize that there are some places in the country where the air is pretty good," Nolen said.

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