The American Lung Association has released its annual “State of the Air” report. Many Virginia communities didn’t fare too well.

By Deb Belt, Patch National Staff | Apr 25, 2019 7:00 am ET | Updated Apr 25, 2019 7:03 am ET

Three DC area communities received low marks for air quality from the American Lung Association.

WASHINGTON, DC — More than 40 percent of Americans live in areas with unhealthy air, according to a new report published Wednesday by the American Lung Association. Chances are, millions of DC residents and Virginians are among them.

The report gave D or F grades to two northern Virginia areas, plus the District of Columbia, while most communities had no grade because they don’t have monitoring equipment. Only one NoVA county – Fauquier – received an A grade (see list below).

Harold Wimmer, the group’s president and CEO, said that after years of progress, there’s clear evidence of a “disturbing trend,” with many Americans seeing their air quality worsening due to wildfires and weather patterns. Climate change is fueling that trend, he said.

“This increase in unhealthy air is eye-opening, and points to the reality that the nation must do more to protect the public from serious, even life-threatening harm,” Wimmer said in a news release. “There is no clearer sign that we are facing new challenges than air pollution levels that have broken records tracked for the past twenty years, and the fact that we had more days than ever before when monitored air quality reached hazardous levels for anyone to breathe.”

The American Lung Association, whose work involves improving lung health and preventing lung disease, looked at ozone and particle pollution, often called soot, in its 20th annual “State of the Air” report. Nationwide, more than 141 million people lived in areas last year with unsafe levels of the two, the report found. That’s an increase of more than 7 million from 2017. The report graded air quality using color codes. Maroon refers to hazardous air quality, while purple and red refer to very unhealthy and unhealthy, respectively. Orange means the air was unhealthy for people with sensitive health conditions.

Here’s what the report found for Virginia communities, plus Washington, D.C., (DNC indicates that there is no monitor collecting data in the county):

The report looked at three years of data on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants from 2015-17, which were the warmest years in recorded history.

Particle pollution comes from many sources, including wildfires, wood-burning devices, coal plants and diesel engines. Particulate matter is dangerous because it becomes lodged deep in the lungs and can enter the bloodstream, triggering asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and, in some cases, causing lung cancer.

For the study, researchers with the Lung Association measured particle pollution in both short- and long-term intervals. Short-term refers to daily spikes that can prove deadly, while long-term refers to yearly average.

California, which has been devastated by wildfires in recent years, is home to four of the 10 cities most polluted by short-term particle pollution, and six of the 10 most polluted year-round. Furthermore, the Golden State is home to seven of the 10 most ozone-polluted cities.

Ozone pollution, often called smog, is unhealthy and essentially leaves a sunburn on the lungs, the report said. Breathing in ozone can leave people suffering from shortness of breath and cause bouts of coughing, asthma attacks and even early death.

Los Angeles remained the city with the worst ozone for the 19th time in the report’s 20-year history. Here are the 10 places most polluted by ozone:

  1. Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA
  2. Visalia, CA
  3. Bakersfield, CA
  4. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, CA
  5. Sacramento-Roseville, CA
  6. San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, CA
  7. Phoenix-Mesa, AZ
  8. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA
  9. Houston-The Woodlands, TX
  10. New York-Newark, NY–NJ-CT-PA

Patch national staffer Dan Hampton contributed to this report

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