Thurston air quality above average in survey

Some Puget Sound counties received bad marks in a national American Lung Association report rating cities and counties on pollution levels. But Thurston County wasn’t one of them.

The State of the Air report released Wednesday gives Thurston County a B grade for ozone pollution. King County got an F and Pierce County received a C.

For fine particle pollution, Thurston’s grade was incomplete. Pierce and Snohomish counties got F’s, while King and Spokane counties got C’s.

“The report doesn’t tell the full story,” said Dr. Al Brady of the American Lung Association of the Northwest. He said it doesn’t account for recent work done to reduce diesel emissions and replace smoky wood stoves.

A program of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency has retrofitted diesel engines on hundreds of Puget Sound area school buses, cutting diesel exhaust that can pose a health risk. Another recent program helped replace more than 800 old wood stoves and fireplace inserts that create soot and can contribute to unhealthy indoor air.

Air pollution can irritate lungs and cause wheezing, coughing, heart attacks, lung cancer and premature death.

Todd Myers, environmental director for the Washington Policy Center, said the national group’s ratings are skewed and don’t reflect true air quality in the state.

For example, he said, the group considers ozone pollution levels moderately unhealthy even when they fall below tough U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

“Air quality in Washington state is some of the healthiest in the country,” Myers said.

The national report based its rankings on air quality measurements that local and state agencies reported to the EPA between 2005 and 2007.

Dennis McLerran, executive director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, said the region’s air quality is improving every year and that several programs have cut down on vehicle exhaust and wood smoke.

Nationwide, the State of the Air report found that 60 percent of Americans live in areas with unhealthy air pollution levels.

The group looked at ozone pollution produced when sunlight and heat come in contact with pollutants from smokestacks, tailpipes and other sources. It also studied short-term and year-round levels of particle pollution, a mix of tiny solid and liquid particles in the air.