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The air we breathe

The air we breathe
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06/30/2014 - Regardless of who we are, where we live, what we do, or what our beliefs are, it's the one true substance we can't live without. We like to say it's important to take a breath of fresh air, to clear our heads in the fresh air, yet could the air we breathe be making us sick?

Possibly, according to the American Lung Association, which recently released its 2014 State of the Air report. The report, which looks at ozone and particle pollution across the country, gave Oakland County a failing grade for ozone levels, or what we commonly call smog. Yet, experts with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and regulators with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say all of metro Detroit, including Oakland County, meet federal standards for ozone pollution.

Which is a way of saying, yes and no.

"We disagree with the way they do it," Joan Weidner, air quality specialist with the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), said of the Lung Association's report. "They don't use EPA standards; they use their own standards. It's very misleading. We don't agree with the way they characterize the data."

Part of Weidner's role with SEMCOG is to work with the DEQ to achieve permanent air improvements to show the area is meeting the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for various pollutants, including particulate matter, ozone, lead, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide. Overall, Michigan is meeting all of the national air quality standards with exception of lead levels in Ionia County and sulfur dioxide levels in southwest Detroit and the adjacent downriver community, according to the MDEQ.

"They have a lot of concerns about pockets (of pollution), so areas with a lot of diesel traffic, areas like that, they are working to keep those localized areas cleaner," Weidner said of the Lung Association's report. "Certainly, in southwest Detroit, where there's such a high industry concentration, you'll see an impact, but we meet national standards."

Overall, the State of the Air report shows that there are many areas of the country that have continued making reductions in year-round particle pollution. The lower levels of particle pollution is a direct result of transitioning to cleaner diesel engines and the clean-up of coal-fired power plants, according to the American Lung Association. Ozone pollution, on the other hand, has been one of the hardest pollutions to reduce.

Ozone is the most widespread pollutant in the United States, as well as one of the most dangerous, according to the American Lung Association. Often called smog, ozone is a gas molecule that is harmful to breathe and attacks lung tissues by reacting chemically with it. The ozone layer found high in the upper atmosphere may shield the earth from the sun's ultraviolet radiation, but ozone air pollution at ground level can cause other health problems.

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