The air that Stanislaus County residents breathe in continues to be some of the worst in the country, according to the latest findings from the American Lung Association's State of the Air report for 2017.
Stanislaus County had 30 unhealthy air days because of ozone pollution and particle pollution and as such earned an F grade from the American Lung Association. The Modesto-Merced area ranked sixth in the nation for ozone pollution, fourth for short-term particle pollution, and sixth for year-round 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.
"Ozone pollution is especially harmful to children, seniors and those with asthma and other lung diseases. When they breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor's office, the hospital or the emergency room," said Dr. Alex Sherriffs, a Fresno area physician and member of the San Joaquin Valley Air District Board and the California Air Resources Board.
"Particle pollution, known as soot, can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes. They can even cause lung cancer and early death," Dr. Sherriffs said.
The State of the Air 2017 report is based on air quality monitoring data collected in 2013-15, the most recent years available. The report focuses on ozone and particle pollution, as they are the most widespread forms of air pollution threatening public health. All eight Valley counties earned a failing grade for each of the three pollution sources tracked in the report.
The report found that more than 90 percent of Californians live in areas with unhealthy air at some point during the year.
"Our state's air quality continues to hit unhealthy levels each year, putting Californians at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma, COPD, and lung cancer," said Olivia Diaz-Lapham, President and CEO of the American Lung Association in California.
"We are seeing continued improvement in parts of the state, but there are too many areas where residents are breathing dirty air and we must work to reduce the sources of air pollution."
And while the Modesto-Merced area had a significant number of unhealthy air days, it's actually lower when compared to previous years. The report found that it was a year in which the region recorded the fewest average unhealthy days for ozone pollution in the 18-year history of the report.
The American Lung Association said that in order to improve the region's air quality, the state and region must continue to support efforts to cut pollution.
"While California continues to move forward with policies like strong standards to reduce vehicle emissions, the federal government wants to move backwards," said Diaz-Lapham. "We call on President Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and members of Congress to fully fund, implement and enforce the Clean Air Act for all air pollutants - including those that drive climate change and make it harder to ensure healthy air for all Americans."