Despite an overall increase in the air quality of Massachusetts since 2012, several counties still have an unsafe level of ozone pollution and would need to improve the air quality for the future, according to the State of the Air report released by the American Lung Association Wednesday.
“While these grades are improving, the Lung Association believes in the long run, and science backs this up, that these levels are still too high, and we would want to see them lower so that at no point are we going to have even moderately unhealthy air days,” said Casey Harvell, Healthy Air campaign coordinator at the ALA.
Four counties received a failing grade — Bristol, Dukes, Hampshire and Worcester County. Suffolk County passed but received a “C’” grade.
Ozone grades are determined by the amount of days that a county’s air quality breaks an air standard threshold, which is measured by recording stations in each county, Harvell said.
“We do see quite a big amount of our pollution come through the jet stream,” she said. “While we’ve been working really hard to improve our air quality in Massachusetts and the region, there are still things out of our control coming from more of the bigger industrial parts of the country.”
James Baldwin, professor of earth and environmental science at Boston University, said if ozone pollution is not monitored, high ozone days could cause several health problems for people.
“It [ozone] damages your lungs, causes respiratory distress, it increases the risk of asthma,” he said. “People that have asthma, people that have respiratory disease [and] elderly people are all highly at risk.”
Since the Massachusetts economy is primarily service-based, Baldwin said the economic recession affected many states whose air pollution comes to the Commonwealth, and although air quality has improved, this is only a temporary change.
“Air quality declines with more energy consumption, so one of the reasons why we have a steady state case is because the economy hasn’t booming,” he said. “Until we have a more substantial change in how we use and produce energy, I would expect that as soon as the economy starts ramping back up that we’ll see air pollution get worse.”
Baldwin said change is just a matter of implementing the technologies that already exist in order to improve air quality.
“One of the grand ironies about air pollution is that for virtually everything except for carbon dioxide, we can fix it,” he said. “We have technologies that can stop all of these things [air pollution sources]. It’s a matter of cost and of implementing them.”
Some residents said if the technology exists to deal with air quality problems, then they should be implemented.
“Any steps that can be taken should be taken, that’s a no brainer,” said Nate Chase, 34, a chef in Somerville.
Chase said the government should already institute the technology to further prevent poor air quality in Massachusetts.
“It’s obvious, something should be done,” he said. “If we have the technology, we should do whatever it takes.”
Joel Carlton-Gysan, 40, of Brighton, said more groups and organizations should be aware of the air quality problem.
“It’s definitely an issue where we need to bring together businesses and public interest groups to discuss the problem and see what should be done about it,” he said.
Eamon White, 27, also of Brighton, said ozone pollution is a problem that needs to be handled by all states.
“I want the environment to get to a place where it’s stable,” he said. “It’s a much larger problem than just Massachusetts.”