The air quality in Montgomery County received a mixed report from the American Lung Association Wednesday, earning an “F” for its levels of ozone pollution but showing improvement in its levels of particle pollution.
The association’s annual State of the Air 2013 report, which uses data compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, shows that the county had 10 days of high ozone, or smog, levels in the three years from 2009 to 2011. That number was high enough to earn it a failing grade, along with Prince George’s, Baltimore, Frederick and several other counties.
Montgomery had the same number of high-ozone days during the three-year period — 2008 to 2011 — covered in last year’s report.
Ozone, the most widespread pollutant, is an indirect product of emissions from vehicles or other industrial sources, created when these emissions react with sunlight. Ozone can irritate the lungs and cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death, according to the association.
“The best way to describe it is like a sunburn on your lungs,” said Kimberly Williams, an American Lung Association spokeswoman.
Particle pollution, or soot, on the other hand, is the “bits of stuff” emitted directly from polluters such as vehicles, industrial plants or fires, Williams said.
This year’s report shows Montgomery County had an annual average of 10.2 micrograms per cubic meter, down from 10.3 micrograms in last year’s report and low enough to earn the county a passing grade from the association. A lower number indicates a better score.
Jurisdictions with an annual average of 12.1 micrograms received a grade of “fail.”
The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area was ranked as the ninth-most polluted city in the nation for ozone, worse than in the previous year’s report, when it ranked 13th. The area has cut its particle pollution levels since the 2012 report, which corresponds with the national trend, according to the association.
Despite the improvements, stronger pollution standards are still needed to protect the health of D.C.-area residents, Williams said.
Nationwide, the report found that more than 131.8 million people, or more than four out of every 10, still live in counties with unhealthy air-quality levels.
Maryland can continue to improve its pollution levels by strengthening the permitting process for coal-burning power plants, of which there are three surrounding Washington, D.C., said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, senior attorney with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
But despite state laws such as the Healthy Air Act, which required power plants to phase in reductions in pollutant emissions starting in 2009, Maryland remains susceptible to air pollution drifting from other states, underscoring the need for strong federal pollution regulations, said Tommy Landers, director of the nonprofit Environment Maryland.