Report: Fairfield County's air is breathtakingly bad
Published 5:57 am, Friday, April 27, 2012
Fairfield County is one of the 25 most polluted counties in the nation, and the most polluted in the state, according to the American Lung Association's State of the Air 2012 report, released Wednesday.
This year's report -- the 13th released by the ALA -- gave failing air quality grades to five of Connecticut's eight counties. Windham County wasn't measured, because there aren't any air quality monitors there. Last year, all of the counties where air quality is measured received failing grades.
According to the report, roughly half the state's population, about 2.2 million people, live in a county with failing air quality. Fairfield County is particularly bad, ranking as the 24th most polluted county in the nation (up from 25th last year). "Fairfield County has been a problem for some time," said Michelle Marichal, interim director of health promotion and public policy for the American Lung Association in Connecticut.
She attributes the county's poor air quality partly to its proximity to pollution-heavy New York City and to the plentiful traffic on Interstate 95, which runs through the county. The report also deemed the New York-Newark (N.J.)-Bridgeport metro area as the 15th most polluted in the country.
State of the Air 2012 uses Environmental Protection Agency data collected from 2008 to 2010 from official monitors for ozone and particle pollution.
Ozone, or smog, is a gas formed most often when sunlight reacts with vapors emitted when motor vehicles, factories, power plants and other sources burn fuel. Particle pollution is a cocktail of ash, soot, diesel, exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols that can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end.
Fairfield County received an "F" for ozone pollution and an a "C" in particle pollution. However, it did have fewer poor air quality days compared with last year's report (which reviewed EPA data from 2007 to 2009).
Between 2008 and 2010, Fairfield County had 35 days when ozone levels were unsafe for sensitive groups, such as the elderly, and four days when ozone levels were unsafe for everyone. Between 2007 and 2009, the county had 43 days where ozone levels were unsafe for the sensitive and seven days where they were unhealthy for everyone.
The number of days with high particle pollution also went down. In the period covering this year's report, there were five days when the conditions were unsafe for sensitive groups, compared with six such days in last year's report.
Also, Litchfield and Hartford counties, which received failing grades in last year's report, received passing grades. Litchfield jumped two full letter grades for both ozone and particle pollution, earning a C and an A, respectively.
New Haven County received an F in ozone pollution (same as in last year's report) and a D in particle pollution (up from an F last year). However, there were fewer poor air quality days in that county than in Fairfield, so it didn't rank as poorly.
Nationwide, the report found that air quality was at its cleanest since the organization's annual report began 13 years ago. But there's still a lot of progress to be made, said Janice Nolen, ALA assistant vice president, national policy and advocacy and lead author of the report. "The truth is, cleaner still isn't clean enough," she said during a conference call on Tuesday.
According to the report, more than 40 percent of people in the United States live in areas where air pollution continues to threaten their health. Both ozone and particle pollution can trigger serious health problems, Marichal said.
"Short-term exposure to poor air quality can cause asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to flare up (in those with these conditions)," she said. "It's also detrimental to kids because their lungs are still developing."
ALA recommends that state residents do their part to reduce air pollution by driving less, reducing electricity use and refraining from burning wood. Marichal said residents can protect themselves by not exercising or spending prolonged periods outdoors on poor air quality days, and not exercising near busy roads.