Region’s air quality improves, despite hot summer

Hank Silverberg,

WASHINGTON – Smell that crisp fall air? The Washington region is coming off a very hot summer, and it was the cleanest summer air the region has had since 2009.

This is despite reports from AAA Mid-Atlantic that people are driving more than they did 25 years ago, and there are more people and cars in the region.

Even though there were eight days with temperatures over 100 degrees and 52 days over 90 degrees in 2012 — making it the third hottest summer on record — the region only had three Code Red days and 16 Code Orange days.

There were a combined 21 Code Red and Orange days in 2011.

“This is great news for anybody who breathes,” says Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid- Atlantic, which works with Clean Air Partners, a public-private partnership that educates the region about the dangers of air pollution.

On Code Red days, ozone levels are high and the air quality is unhealthy. On those days, people are urged to limit their outdoor activities and take transit. The region had no Code Purple days, when pollution levels are very unhealthy for anyone.

Anderson says cleaner fuel has a lot to do with ozone levels dropping.

“What’s coming out of the tailpipe right now is actually 96 percent cleaner than it was 25 years ago,” he says.

The lower ozone levels continue a downward trend, though the region still gets significant air pollution coming from smokestack industries in the Ohio river valley and elsewhere.

The cleaner air is particularly good news for those who suffer from respiratory illnesses, such as asthma.

“Code Red Days can mean more asthma attacks for children, increases in cardiovascular disease and breathing problems for adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),” says Rolando Andrewn, president of Breathe DC, a member of Clean Air Partners, in a release.

While there have been improvements in the region’s air quality, Jen Desimone, a senior environmental planner at Clean Air Partners, says the region needs to continue to reduce emissions.

“We still experienced nearly a month’s worth of unhealthy air quality days so far this year,” Desimone says.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments tracks the air quality every day.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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