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Local Air Quality Getting Better

April 24, 2013
By SHELLEY HANSON Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING - The air in Ohio and Marshall counties isn't as dirty this year compared to last, but there still is room for improvement, according to the American Lung Association's 2013 State of the Air report.

Ohio County's air rank improved from a "B" to an "A" while Marshall County's moved up from a "C" to a "B." Despite these improvements, the report notes Wheeling's overall rank for air quality still is among the Top 25 worst cities at No. 20. The Steubenville-Weirton area also is in the Top 25 at No. 12. The ALA attributes improving air quality to better emissions standards for coal-fired power plants.

"I don't find (the improvement) surprising given that two local electrical power plants have closed and the one still existing in Marshall County has worked toward meeting state and federal requirements on emissions," said Ronda Francis, administrator of the Marshall County Health Department.

Article Photos

Photo by Casey Junkins
The American Electric Power Mitchell Plant in Marshall County releases emissions as it generates electricity.

"I hear many complaints about the air quality in the Ohio Valley, so the improvements noted in this report should ease the concerns of our citizenry. Hopefully, we will continue to see improvements in air quality and, in turn, see less pulmonary illness due to environmental pollutants," she added.

Particle pollution, considered dangerous and deadly, consists of a mix of microscopic bits of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols. Ozone pollution creates smog, according to the ALA. Other local county grades include: Brooke, D; Hancock, C; and Jefferson, C. There was no data available for Wetzel or Tyler counties in West Virginia or for Belmont, Harrison or Monroe counties in Ohio because air quality monitoring equipment is not located in those counties.

Howard Gamble, Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department administrator, said he also is not surprised by the improvement.

"We have been seeing slight improvements with our ranking over the last few years. Change does take time, and changes in federal and state policies concerning air quality are often weighted against politics and the economy," he said.

"The continued improvements to our region's air quality have several benefits ... By decreasing an area's ozone (smog) levels we can reduce the number of asthma-related visits to the doctor's office or emergency room. Part of the report focuses on groups at risk. By improving air quality, we limit the number of people in these groups, such as infants, older adults with a lung disease or other chronic conditions and low-income (people) who would become sick, and increase the cost of health care services," Gamble added.

Deb Brown, chief executive officer of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, noted the air in the Wheeling region is much cleaner than when the first report came out 14 years ago.

"Even though the Wheeling region experienced an increase in unhealthy days of high ozone, the air quality is still better compared to a decade ago. But the work is not done, and we must set stronger health standards for pollutants and clean up sources of pollution in the Wheeling region to protect the health of our citizens," Brown said.

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