U.S. Had 2,000 Unhealthy Air Alerts in 2011 So Far


Photo: Aske Holst, Flickr/ CC BY

Yes, it's true that our air -- especially in smoggy cities like Los Angeles -- has gotten cleaner since important environmental legislation was passed back in the early 1970s. The EPA and the Clean Air Act have helped limit air pollution, even as the nation continued to boom. Now, we're a bigger country than ever, and our cities aren't smog-choked hellholes. But that doesn't mean it's time to rest on our laurels -- far from it. We still have a major pollution problem in much of the country; in this year alone, there have been over 2,000 'Unhealthy Air Alerts' so far. Here's USA Today:

You may have thought bad air pollution was on the way out, but not so. A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council counts more than 2,000 code orange alerts in U.S. communities and national parks from Jan. 1 to early August.

Code orange means the air's too unhealthy for people with lung disease, older adults and children. NRDC, a pro-environmental advocacy group, is hoping the Environmental Protection Agency will consider this as they prepare to release new clean air standards. "Too many Americans are breathing unhealthy air this year," says the NRDC's John Walke. "Orange is the dividing line between whether people play outside or decide to stay indoors that day."

And LA may be looking better now than it did just a few decades ago, but it's still one of the worst places to be breathing in the nation. California -- and particularly southern California -- had more "orange alerts" than anywhere else in the country. This is, of course, thanks primarily to the traffic-choked roads and abundance of emissions-spewing vehicles.

The EPA is trying to tighten pollution standards that would reduce these unhealthy air days, but industry interests are opposing them with an iron fist, led by a rancorous Republican Congress. But make no mistake -- this pollution is very real, and it is giving kids asthma, making folks sick enough to miss work, and killing people every year. It's unfortunate that industry finds it too inconvenient to upgrade their wares to less-polluting equipment -- but it must be done.

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