WEIRTON - The American Lung Association says air pollution levels in Brooke, Hancock and Jefferson counties have dropped considerably over the past year.
The organization's "State of the Air 2013" report puts the three-county metropolitan area in a tie with Wheeling for 22nd worst in the nation - significantly better than the 12th worst ranking the area had in last year's report.
All three counties showed distinct improvement in annual particle pollution levels. Brooke and Jefferson counties received a failing grade this year because the air quality standard has been made more protective of public health since the 2012 report, which had given them passing marks.
On the plus side, for the first time ever, Hancock County had zero unhealthy days of high short-term particle pollution, earning it an "A" and a place in the report's list of "Cleanest Counties" for short-term particle pollution. Last year Hancock County got a "C" grade.
Brooke and Jefferson counties also showed improvement in short-term particle pollution, though not as dramatic as Hancock's.
The report also found improvement in ozone levels in Hancock and Jefferson counties, though Hancock is still tied for second worst in the state. Ozone, otherwise known as smog, is the most widespread air pollutant, created by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other sources. When ozone is inhaled, it irritates the lungs, like a bad sunburn and can cause immediate health problems that continue days later. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death.
"The air in the Weirton-Steubenville region is certainly cleaner than when we started the 'State of the Air' report 14 years ago," said Deb Brown, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. "Not only did all monitors show real improvement in measures of ozone and particle pollution, but the air quality is far better compared to a decade ago."
The American Lung Association's "State of the Air 2013" report is an annual, national air quality "report card." The 2013 report - the 14th annual release - uses the most recent quality-assured air pollution data, compiled by the EPA, in 2009, 2010 and 2011, officials said. It comes from the official monitors for the two most widespread types of pollution, ozone and particle pollution, also known as soot. The report grades counties and ranks cities and counties based on their scores for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels.