OHIO VALLEY - The Weirton-Steubenville area and Wheeling both are among the Top 25 metro areas in the nation for poor air quality.
According to the American Lung Association of West Virginia, the Weirton-Steubenville metro area received the same rank as last year for particle pollution - 12th - in the association's State of the Air Report 2012. Wheeling's particle pollution is worse compared to last year, receiving a rank of 20th. In 2011, Wheeling was ranked 34th.
"Going down numerically is not a positive. It means it is getting worse," said Deborah Brown, ALA Mid-Atlantic president and chief executive officer.
Brown said particle pollution "is a noxious mix of microscopic bits of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols. Particle pollution is the most dangerous and deadly of the outdoor pollutants that are widespread in America."
The association also has new rankings related to ozone, or smog, pollution.
"Ozone ... is the most widespread air pollutant. When you inhale ozone, it irritates your lungs, like giving them a bad sunburn. It can cause health problems the day you breathe it in, and even days after. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing and asthma attacks and can even shorten your life," she said.
Wheeling's ozone ranking improved, from 24th last year to 65th this year. The association notes statewide, West Virginia's air quality has improved since last year's report. It also notes the state's air quality is the cleanest since the ALA started such research 12 years ago.
Howard Gamble, Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department administrator, described the annual report as a good tool for people to use to take steps to protect themselves from high pollution level times.
"Although we do contribute locally to some of the problems with smog or overall pollution levels, some of the problems are the result of problems in other parts of the country. Simple steps such as carpooling or taking mass transit can help clean up the air in our community. Individually, one of the ways we can protect ourselves is not exercising outdoors on high pollution days," he said.
For more information, visit stateoftheair.org.
In addition to reaching the Top 25 nationally, the Weirton-Steubenville metro area was ranked as having the worst air quality in West Virginia, while Greenbrier County had the best air quality.
"State of the Air shows that we're making steady progress in cutting dangerous pollution from the air as a result of cleanup efforts required under the Clean Air Act," Brown said. "But millions of Americans across the country, including the citizens of West Virginia, are still forced to breathe unhealthy levels of air pollution as a result of air quality standards that are outdated."
According to the ALA, major air pollution sources include coal-fired power plants, diesel engines and sport-utility vehicles.