Nation Making Progress in Cutting Air Pollution, Improving Health

The Nation's Health, May-June 2010 | Go to article overview

Nation Making Progress in Cutting Air Pollution, Improving Health


THE UNITED States is making progress toward cleaner air, but about 127 million Americans still live in counties violating at least one air quality standard, a new report finds.

Released in March by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the report found nationwide air quality has improved significantly since 1990 for the six common air pollutants: ground-level ozone, particle pollution, lead, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide. Emissions of toxic air pollutants such as benzene dropped about 40 percent nationwide between 1990 and 2005.

EPA officials said the reductions have led to decreases in emergency room visits, respiratory illnesses and premature deaths. Environmentally, the drop in pollutants has led to a visible decline in regional haze.

Still, the fact that millions of Americans live in counties that violate at least one air quality standard points to the need for the agency's recent actions to tighten air quality standards, according to the report. The document analyzes national emissions from key industrial sectors and examines the relationship between air quality and climate change.

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The report outlined EPA programs that have contributed to "significant improvements in air quality and environmental health," such as the Acid Rain Program, which aims to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Required reductions in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide "have led to significant decreases in atmospheric deposition, which have contributed to improved water quality in lakes and streams," according to the report. …

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Nation Making Progress in Cutting Air Pollution, Improving Health
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