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Ohio Valley Counties on Different Ends Of Air Quality Spectrum

WHEELING – The Upper Ohio Valley’s air quality is improving, but three local counties are part of the metropolitan area ranked 10th most polluted in the nation, according to a new report.

The findings are contained in the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2015 report released Wednesday.

According to the report, the Pittsburgh, New Castle, Pa., and Weirton metropolitan area – which includes Jefferson, Hancock and Brooke counties – was classified as the year’s 10th most polluted city in the country. The Pittsburgh metro area ranked ninth worst in year-round particle pollution, 10th worst in short-term particle pollution and 21st worst in ozone pollution.

The Wheeling metropolitan area – covering Ohio, Marshall and Belmont counties -was tied for 23rd worst in year-round particle pollution out of 220 metropolitan areas. Tied with Wheeling were the metropolitan areas of Erie, Pa.-Meadville, Pa.; Shreveport, La.-Bossier City, La.; and El Paso, Texas-Las Cruces, N.M.

The report ranked the Wheeling metro area at 142nd for high ozone days out of 220 metro areas. However, Wheeling ranked first for cleanest metro areas in the country for 24-hour particle pollution.

Kevin Stewart, the American Lung Association’s director of environmental health, said the Wheeling area’s ranking improved in two categories and was the cleanest county for a third category.

“When we’re talking about improved for year-round particle pollution, Wheeling’s grade went from ‘F’ in last year’s report to a passing grade in this year’s report,” Stewart said.

In a cautionary note, though, American Lung Association officials contend the government’s standards for measuring air quality “are not adequate to protect public health,” Stewart said. “Those standards should improve.”

Regarding the air quality in the northern-most counties, Stewart said, “Even though Allegheny County (Pa.) is the worst for year-round particle pollution in that metro area, Brooke and Jefferson and Beaver County (Pa.) are tied for second worst. Even if you take Allegheny out of the mix for year-round particle pollution, those counties would still be in the top 25 (in the nation).”

Putting the ratings in perspective, he said, “As a general rule for the Pittsburgh metro area, not only its worst levels decreased to the best ever in history, but also there was a general trend against all these pollutants for the monitors to decrease. There was not any area in the Pittsburgh area to increase. Some stayed the same.”

However, he said officials think the standard is weak.

“If it were stricter, there would be even some bad air days in Hancock County,” he said.

During the past year, Hancock County had six “orange” days in which air pollution levels were deemed “unhealthy for sensitive populations.” Ohio Couty had three orange days for the year. Neither county had any “red” days (“unhealthy”) or “purple” days (“very unhealthy.”) Data wasn’t collected in Brooke, Marshall, Wetzel and Tyler counties.

Jefferson County had seven “orange” days for the year, but no “red” or “purple” days. Data wasn’t collected for Belmont, Harrison and Monroe counties.

Looking at ozone pollution, the report issued these grades, county by county: Hancock, C; Ohio, C; Jefferson, D. Data was not collected for ozone in Brooke, Marshall, Wetzel and Tyler counties. Likewise, in Ohio, ozone data wasn’t collected in Belmont, Harrison and Monroe counties.

From a historical perspective, assessing the weighted average for ozone pollution since 1996, Ohio County had 12.2 fewer days with high levels this year; Hancock had 12.5 fewer days and Jefferson had 2.7 fewer days.

Officials said the weighted average was derived by adding the three years of individual level data (2011-13) and multiplying the sums of each level by the assigned standard weights.

For 24-hour particle pollution, the county grades were as follows: Hancock, A; Brooke, B; Ohio, A; Marshall, A; Jefferson, B. Data was not collected for 24-hour particle pollution in Wetzel, Tyler, Belmont, Harrison and Monroe counties.

The weighted average for particle pollution since 2000 was, by county: Hancock, 8.7 fewer days with high levels this year; Brooke, 4.4 fewer days; Ohio, 3.7 fewer days; Jefferson, 20.6 fewer days.

From a national perspective, the report found that more than four in 10 Americans – nearly 138.5 million people – live in counties where ozone or particle pollution levels make the air unhealthy to breathe. The 16th annual national report card shows that improvement in the nation’s air quality was mixed, with many cities experiencing strong improvements, while others suffered increased episodes of unhealthy air, and a few even marked their worst number of unhealthy days.

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