Air quality failing in Suffolk

Published 10:17 pm Saturday, May 7, 2011

The air in Suffolk isn’t making the grade, according to the American Lung Association.

The organization’s 12th annual State of the Air report, which grades air quality in cities and counties across the country, gave Suffolk an F for ozone air pollution.

Suffolk was the only city in Hampton Roads where the organization gathered enough data in order to grade it.

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To determine each locality’s grade, the lung association uses air quality monitors and compares the ozone levels to the Air Quality Index, which identifies five levels — good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive populations, unhealthy and very unhealthy.

Everything below moderate is considered hazardous by the Environmental Protection Agency, said Kimberly Williams, Virginia’s ALA chapter manager of advocacy and communication.

A weighted average of ozone levels is also calculated for the area. Numbers are assigned to the levels — 1 for unhealthy for sensitive populations, 1.5 for unhealthy and 2.0 for very unhealthy — and an average is calculated.

Everything higher than 3.3 results in a failing grade. Suffolk’s weighted average was 4.7 for the 2007-2009 period.

During the data period, the organization assesses how many of each type of day an area had. Suffolk had 14 days that were unhealthy for sensitive populations, such as those with asthma. However, it had no unhealthy or very unhealthy days..

Honolulu, Hawaii, the-highest rated city on the list, had no days below the moderate level. In contrast, Los Angeles, Calif., had 182 days that were unhealthy for sensitive populations, 51 unhealthy days and eight very unhealthy days and received a 91.5 weighted average.

Williams said even though Suffolk’s air isn’t in as bad condition as other cities, it still needs work. However, there have been improvements over the years.

“Overall, there has been strong progress in the air quality, but there is still work to do,” she said.

Suffolk saw about 17 fewer unhealthy days than it did 15 years ago.

Williams recommends anyone concerned about air conditions should contact their state legislators and tell them about their concerns.

“One of the biggest things they can do is relay the message that this is important to them and let lawmakers know that,” she said.

Additionally, citizens can drive their cars less and try carpooling to improve the quality of the air.

Williams said she hopes people realize that air quality isn’t just an environmental issue.

“This is a public health issue,” she said. “(All citizens) are being affected by it.”