New air quality report gives Bay Area low marks

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The San Francisco Bay Area has some of the worst air in the country and it's only getting worse. That's according to a new study from the American Lung Association, in its annual look at the "The State of the Air 2019."

The American Lung Association's findings for the Bay Area -- measured from 2015 to 2017 -- were heavily influenced by climate change and several devastating wildfires, like the North Bay fires of October 2017.

While ozone levels have actually improved in several counties, the San Jose-San Francisco Bay Area has jumped into sixth place on the study's dubious list of "Most Polluted Cities for Year-Round Particle Pollution," just one spot behind the Los Angeles-Long Beach area.

A spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency takes issue with the ALA study, claiming that nationwide, key emissions measures have dropped dramatically since 1970.

"The Lung Association paints a pessimistic picture based upon a problematic methodology. EPA methods for determining air quality, which are based on the Clean Air Act and the latest science, show continued improvements," the EPA said in a prepared statement.



"It's a day-to-day issue now, with climate change. We're having more fires," said Mark Ross, a Martinez City Council member who represents Contra Costa County for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Ross says despite significant improvements, there is still much work to be done here.

"We have gotten better in so many areas, but we can fall back so easily because when we ask for every little thing, like don't drive today, don't do these little things," explained Ross, "and then it gets dwarfed by one major wildfire, it really makes the mission tougher."

See the full report here.

EPA Statement:

The United States is a global leader in clean air progress, and the Lung Association paints a pessimistic picture based upon a problematic methodology. EPA methods for determining air quality, which are based on the Clean Air Act and the latest science, show continued improvements in measures of U.S. air quality in recent years and into the future.

What the data shows:

From 1970 to 2017, the combined emissions of the six key pollutants regulated under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards dropped by 73 percent, while the U.S. economy grew more than 260 percent and the population continued to expand.

Between 2007 and 2017, emissions of NOx, the key contributor to ground-level ozone, have dropped in the U.S. by more than 40 percent. EPA projects that nearly the whole country will meet the 2008 and 2015 ozone standards by the early 2020s. These standards are set at a level requisite to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety for susceptible individuals.

Between 2000 and 2017, fine particulate matter concentrations in the U.S. dropped by roughly 40 percent. The U.S. has some of the lowest population-weighted fine particulate matter levels in the world, more than five times below the global average, and the vast majority of the U.S. meets the most recent particulate matter standards.

From 2005 to 2017, total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 14 percent, and carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants dropped by roughly 20 percent since 2011.

Since 2000, concentrations of sulfur dioxide have fallen by over 79 percent in the U.S. Between 2000 and 2017, lead concentrations in the air fell in the U.S. by over 90 percent.

For power plants covered by EPA's program for cross-border ozone, nitrogen oxide emissions have dropped by over 20 percent - roughly 80,000 tons - just since the 2016 ozone season.

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