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How fresh is the air in this area?
Clay County worst in KC for ozone

by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark editor

The American Lung Association's annual “State of the Air” report revealed that 38.9 percent of the U.S. population lives in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone pollution or particle pollution.

In the Kansas City area, Clay County is the site of the most ozone pollution, according to experts.

According to the American Lung Association, the 125 million Americans living in 204 counties where elevated levels of air pollution were detected are at a heightened risk for premature death and other serious health concerns.

Lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, decreased lung function, and developmental and reproduction impairments are among those health risks.

“Even with the ongoing improvements, too many people in the United States live where the air is unhealthy for them to breathe. This is simply unacceptable," said Harold P. Wimmer, national president and CEO of the American Lung Association. "Everyone has a fundamental right to breathe healthy air. Our nation's leaders must do more to protect the health of all Americans.”

This year's report features data collected from about 1,000 counties in the U.S. from 2013 through 2015.

The air quality in Platte and Jackson counties were not monitored by the American Lung Association over that period. Instead, air quality specialists monitored Clay, Clinton and Cass counties.

Beginning in 2005, the state and the EPA phased out the air quality monitoring in Platte County. Susannah Fuchs, director of clear air with the American Lung Association in Missouri, said data collected by the EPA suggests that Kansas City has met all ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards since 1979.

“The reason Clay has the monitor and not Jackson or Platte reflects the ozone chemistry, where the worst ozone shows up downwind of the urban core in suburban counties,” said Fuchs. “When all three counties had monitors, Clay County registered many more (high ozone pollution) days (weighted average) than did the Jackson or Platte.”

This year Clay County scored a F in ozone pollution and a B for particle pollution over a 24-hour period. The report revealed Clay County has 13 days where the air quality was unhealthy for residents who are more sensitive, including people with asthma or chronic lung disease.

“While Clay, Clinton and Cass are where the monitors are, that doesn't mean that ozone could not be a problem elsewhere in the metro area,” added Fuchs. “Ozone can be a problem in other nearby counties, but the monitoring network is aimed at monitoring is done where the worst ozone likely will show up.”

Four out of 20 Missouri counties received a failing grade for having an elevated number of ozone pollution days from 2013-2015.