Michigan has received a failing grade from the American Lung Association as part of its State of the Air 2006 report. The report names Michigan and the Great Lakes states as one of the most polluted regions in the country. The Detroit, Warren, and Flint area was ranked as the 6th most polluted region in the country for particle pollution and the 15th most polluted for short-term pollution levels while many counties in Michigan received failing grades on the report’s air quality report card.
The report tracks two common forms of air pollution—particle and ozone pollution. Particle pollution refers to a combination of fine particles and aerosols suspended in the air that people breathe. While the particles range in size, they are invisible individually and are only visible when they collect and form a haze that becomes visible once millions of particles blur the sunlight. Particle pollution comes from two broad categories, mechanical processes such as demolition, construction, mining, agriculture, and coal and oil combustion as well as chemical processes such as the burning of fossil fuels and the burning of agricultural fields or forests. Particle pollution has been found to cause a wide array of health problems including asthma, various respiratory irritations, heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, and even premature death as particles enter the body and eventually the bloodstream. The study distinguished between “short-term” particle pollution, when particle levels peak for a short period of time, and “long-term” particle pollution when there is sustained exposure to particles.
Additionally, the report also ranks levels of ozone pollution across the United States. Ozone is gas molecule that is popularly known as smog and is one of the most harmful forms of air pollution. In humans, ozone attacks the lung tissues by reacting chemically with them while in nature it can damage crops and trees. Ozone is formed by chemical reactions in the atmosphere when pollutants from a variety of industrial sources such as motor vehicles, chemical plants, refineries, factories, gas stations, and others combine with sunlight, heat, and nitrogen oxides (emitted from power plants, motor vehicles, and other sources of high-heat combustion). Recent studies have found that ozone is dangerous at the levels currently experienced in the United States and that even short-term exposure can shorten lives. Moreover, ozone “vulnerable” populations such as children and senior citizens face a greater risk from ozone, as do those with pre-existing respiratory conditions.
According to the data published in the American Lung Association’s report, residents of Kent County are vulnerable to negative effects from both particle and ozone pollution with Kent County receiving a failing grade of “F” for both types of pollution. Kent County had fourteen days with elevated levels of ozone, with thirteen being designated “unhealthy for sensitive groups” and one day that was deemed “unhealthy.” There were eleven days in which particle pollution was deemed “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” The county received a simple “pass” for its long-term particle pollution levels. The “F” grade was given as the county had more than ten days in which the air was “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” Kent County also has a significant number of residents who are at increased risk from air pollution due to pre-existing health conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, or cardiovascular disease. The nearby counties of Allegan, Muskegon, and Ottawa also received “F” grades.
Overall, the report found that some 150 million Americans live in counties where they are exposed to unhealthy levels of pollution with 51% of the country’s residents living in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. In order to improve air quality, the report calls for protective limits on particle pollution, retention of the protection measures in the Clean Air Act, requiring power plants to comply with strict pollution controls and the closing of EPA loopholes, and improving standards for vehicles using marine and local diesel. Aside from lobbying to enact the aforementioned policy changes, individuals can also reduce air pollution by driving less, composting and recycling waste instead of burning it, using less electricity, and getting involved in grassroots efforts aimed at reducing pollution.