Air pollution in cities in the Northwest is covered by a report released today by the American Lung Association, using government data. The upshot: we’ve got bad air days here and there, but most of breathe clean air—at least compared with other Americans.
Eugene-Springfield, Oregon, is the fifth worst in the United States for short-term pollution with small particles of soot that lodge deep in the lungs. These “particulates” are the most perilous of the major types of air pollutants, shortening the lives of perhaps tens of thousands of northwesterners each year. The metropolitan area surrounding Puget Sound from Everett south to Olympia ranks twenty-second worst in the nation and Medford, Oregon, is twenty-fifth worst. In Medford, winter wood stove use is the biggest problem. (The rankings are here.)
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Officials in Oregon are probably right that the statistics are imprecise-a rare, severe wildfire filled the air during the period when testing took place, for example, made Eugene look worse than it deserves. Cities such as Spokane and Coeur d’Alene that periodically get clouded with smoke from field-burning by grass seed farmers probably look better than they should.
More encouraging news is that, ranked by their year-round average particulate pollution levels, all the Northwest cities plummet down the list. None of them rank among the worst 25. And many Northwest cities are among the cleanest 25 in the nation, including Washington’s Tri-Cities and Bellingham; Idaho Falls, Idaho; and Salem and Corvallis, Oregon. Juneau, Alaska, also has exceptionally clean air, largely because it’s atmosphere is washed by constant rainfall. (In fact, all northwesterners who live in the rain forest coastal belt benefit from the continual air cleaning services provided by prevailing weather patterns.)
Cascadia comes out well on another air pollutant covered in the report: ozone. Not a single Northwest city or county registered in the worst 25, and many (including Bellingham, Mount Vernon, and Spokane, Washington; and Eugene, Medford, and Salem, Oregon) ranked among the best 25 for ozone in urban air.
(A fuller description of air pollution in the Northwest is here.)