Residents of Stanislaus County are still subjected to breathing in some of the worst air in the country, according to the American Lung Association's State of the Air report.
The State of the Air report for 2016 gave Stanislaus County "F" grades for having high ozone days and particle pollution levels in a 24-hour period, and failed when it came to the annual level of particle pollution. Particle pollution is particulate matter like soot, ash, dust and other miniscule materials that can be breathed in. Exposure to particle pollution can cause health problems, aggravate lung disease, trigger asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and increase risk of respiratory infections. People with existing respiratory and coronary disease, young children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to the effects of particle pollution.
Stanislaus County was hardly alone when it came to poor air quality. The ALA's report issued failing grades to all eight counties in the San Joaquin Valley for ozone and particle pollution. Merced County was the only county to not get a failing mark for the annual total, by barely falling within the national standards of particle concentrations.
While the air quality in the San Joaquin Valley is poor, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District contends it is not as bad as what the ALA reports. For one, the State of the Air report is using data from 2012 to 2014, and does not reflect the improvements seen last year, when the District recorded some of the lowest pollution levels on record. The data reflects the air quality during the drought when the dry conditions and wild fires hampered the District's efforts to improve air quality. In comparison, the District said the 2015 summer was the cleanest on record for ozone, with zero violations of the federal 1-hour ozone standard. Additionally, air quality monitors now show that the average population exposure to high levels of ozone has been reduced by over 90 percent, according to the District.
Even with the improvements seen last year, the Valley still has some of the poorest air quality in the nation. The ALA ranked the Modesto-Merced area as the 4th most polluted for short-term particle pollution. The area also was rated the 6th worst city for year-round particle pollution, and the 7th most ozone polluted city.
Nationally, the report found that found continued improvement in air quality, but more than half (52.1 percent) of the people in the United States live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution.
"Thanks to cleaner power plants and cleaner vehicles, we see a continued reduction of ozone and year-round particle pollution in the 2016 ‘State of the Air' report. However, climate change has increased the challenges to protecting public health," said Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association.
"There are still nearly 20 million people in the United States that live with unhealthful levels of all three measures of air pollution the report tracks: ozone, short-term and year-round particle pollution."