LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas has some of the worst air pollution in the country, but it’s getting better, according to the American Lung Association said.
High ozone pollution the past year earned Clark County an “F” in the group’s annual “State of the Air” report released on Wednesday. Valley smog levels now rank as the 16th worst in the nation, it said.
Nevertheless, Amy Beaulieu, director of the American Lung Association’s programs in Nevada, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the region’s air has improved significantly over the past decade.
“The air in Las Vegas is certainly cleaner than when we started the ‘State of the Air’ report 14 years ago,” she said.
Among the other Nevada counties reviewed, Churchill got an “A” and Washoe a “C.” Carson City, Lyon and White Pine counties all got a “B.”
Dennis Ransel, planning manager for the Clark County Department of Air Quality, said that despite the low marks for ozone, the community continues to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health standards for the pollutant, though just barely.
“What we really worry about is how the EPA characterizes us. That’s the real boss,” he said.
But while he quibbles with some of the criteria the American Lung Association uses to arrive at its rankings, Ransel supports the overall message.
“It creates publicity and awareness that dirty air isn’t good for people,” he said of the association’s annual report. “The point is pollution is a serious problem.”
Ransel said there were 19 days last year when unhealthy levels of ozone were detected by at least one of the valley’s 11 monitoring sites. In 2010, that happened just one day.
“It was a high year for sure. We’re not entirely sure of the reason,” he said. “The problem is it’s hard to pinpoint the source.”
Ground-level ozone, a key ingredient of urban smog, can become a pollutant of concern in the Vegas area as early as April and continue through the hot summer months.
Ransel said local residents can’t do anything about wildfire smoke and other ozone-causing pollution that blows in from another state. But he said they can cut down on local emissions by driving less and not filling up their cars or running their lawn mowers in the middle of the day.
Unhealthy amounts of ground-level ozone can worsen respiratory illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis, but it also can induce coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath even in healthy people.
“It irritates the lungs,” Ransel said.