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Duluth lands high on national ranking of cleanest air quality

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Duluth scored high on a new ranking of air quality from the American Lung Association.

The annual State of the Air report calculates its rankings from publicly reported measurements of ozone and fine particle pollution from official monitoring sites.

Analysts used data from 2010, 2011 and 2012 and averaged the number of bad air days. They also assigned A through F grades to counties.

Some findings from the report:

– The numbers show eighteen of the 25 cities most polluted by ozone had their lowest smog levels since the first State of the Air report was published in 2000.

–Breathing ozone irritates the lungs, resulting in something like a bad sunburn within the lungs.

– Breathing in particle pollution can increase the risk of early death, heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits for people with asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

– Particles are smaller than 1/30th the diameter of a human hair. When you inhale them, they are small enough to get past the body’s natural defenses.

– Ozone and particle pollution are both linked to increased risk of lower birth weight in newborns.

– Cleaner air between 2000 and 2007 may have added 4 months on to the average person’s life, according to one study.

The nation's air is far cleaner than it was decades ago because of stricter emissions standards for coal-fired power plants, vehicles and diesel engines, the report notes. Even as population grows, emissions of the most widespread air pollutants continue to drop, The LA Times reports.

Still, over 147 million people — about 47 percent of the nation — live in counties with unhealthy air, according to the report. Nearly 30 million of them are in California, where 77 percent of the population lives in counties with failing grades.

Climate change could make progress on air quality more difficult as an increasing number of hot, sunny days favor the formation of ozone, the Lung Association says.

The LA Times reports the new ranking comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering a stricter nationwide smog standard as part of a review required every five years under the Clean Air Act.

Top Five cleanest cities ranked on levels of: ozone, year-round and short-term particle pollution.

How does your city compare? Search here

Definitions from the American Lung Association:

What is Ozone?

Often called “smog,” ozone is harmful to breathe. Ozone aggressively attacks lung tissue by reacting chemically with it. The ozone layer found high in the upper atmosphere (the stratosphere) shields us from much of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. However, ozone air pollution at ground level where we can breathe it (in the troposphere) causes serious health problems.

What is year-round particle pollution?

Particle pollution – like what comes from truck exhaust – can increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks and can interfere with the growth and work of the lungs. Particle pollution is a mix of very tiny solid and liquid particles in the air. “Year-round” refers to an annual average level that represents the concentration of particles day-in-and-day-out.

What is Short-Term Particle Pollution?

Particle pollution can be harmful even if it is inhaled over just a few hours or days, even if the year-round averages are low. “Short-term levels” refers to just such spikes. These represent levels averaged over a 24-hour period. Those days or weeks of high levels can be dangerous, even deadly.

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