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Air Pollution Down, Air Quality Up


An early look at air quality and emissions data for 2006 shows continued improvement in the nation’s air quality over the long term, EPA reports. Emissions of six key pollutants have dropped by more than half since 1970 and the national average concentration for each criteria pollutant is below the level of its air quality standard.

“The data is in and the trends are good – our nation’s air continues to improve because of the Bush Administration’s innovative clean air policies,” said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. “By tackling tailpipes and smokestacks, EPA is clearing the air, and all Americans are breathing easier.”

While emissions of six key “criteria” pollutants and the compounds that form them continue to decline, the United States has continued to grow and prosper. Total emissions of the six key pollutants dropped 54 percent between 1970 and 2006. During the same time period: the U.S. gross domestic product increased 203 percent, vehicle miles traveled increased 177 percent, energy consumption increased 49 percent, and U.S. population grew by 46 percent. In addition, emissions of air toxics in 2002 were 35 percent lower than 1990 levels.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA sets national air quality standards for six key pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and lead. Each year, EPA examines the levels of these pollutants in the air and the emissions from various sources to see how both have changed over time and to summarize the current status of air quality. While national average concentrations of the six key pollutants are below national standards, results vary by site. Annual pollution levels at some monitoring sites do remain above one or more of the national air quality standards, with ozone and particulate matter remaining as the most persistent problems.

April 30-May 4 is Air Quality Awareness Week. This year’s theme is “Keep an Eye on the AQI,” to remind Americans to check daily air quality forecasts to help plan their activities. The forecasts are especially useful for people with asthma, heart disease and people who are active outdoors.


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