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Greater Cincinnati ranks poorly on the American Lung Association's air quality report

cincinnati city skyline seen from kentucky. smoke and haze obscure the image
Tana Weingartner
Smoke from Canadian wildfires blanketed the Tri-State several times in 2023.

The American Lung Association is out with its 25th annual "State of the Air" report and it doesn't give the region high marks. The Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency tells WVXU to take the report with a proverbial grain of salt.

The American Lung Association reports that overall air quality nationwide has improved in the 25 years it has produced its report, but it is calling on the U.S. EPA to do even more.

"Climate change is making air pollution more likely to form and more difficult to clean up, so there are actions we can and must take to improve air quality. We are also calling on EPA to set long-overdue stronger national limits on ozone pollution," says Ken Fletcher, advocacy director for the Lung Association.

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The report ranks the Cincinnati metro area 42nd worst in the nation for ozone pollution ("smog"), and gives Hamilton County an "F" grade. As for short-term particle pollution, the metro area ranks 85th worst in the nation, and a "C" grade for Hamilton County.

Surrounding counties fared only slightly better with Butler and Warren counties receiving a "D" grade for ozone pollution. Clermont County stands out with a "B" grade.

The Cincinnati metro area saw some improvement in one final area, ranking 22nd worst in the nation for year-round average level of particle pollution. That compares to ranking 18th worst last year.

The methodology used data collected by the EPA from 2020-2022, and included data from all days, whether the information was complete or not. It also includes data from days with "exceptional and natural events," such as wildfire smoke coming down from Canada or weather events.

"It's not fully an apples to apples comparison," says Joy Landry, communication specialist with the Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency. She notes the Cincinnati metro area is in attainment for all U.S. EPA standards, including ozone and particulate pollution

"The American Lung Association uses a different methodology when they look at the data. They are going to look at, for example, the highest numbers for ozone. Whereas U.S. EPA — to allow for weather conditions, for example, that are beyond our control — they're going to look at the fourth highest ozone levels in every region, every particular ozone monitor, that's how they calculate those numbers."

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Given the amount of smoke that poured into the region last summer from Canadian wildfires, Landry is already predicting next year's report from the American Lung Association will look even worse than this year's.

"We had some of the highest exceedances for ozone and particulate matter that we had seen here in Greater Cincinnati in 15 to 20 years. Now, the U.S. EPA will make exceptions for that. I anticipate next year's American Lung Association report is probably going to look really awful because they're going to go ahead and count all of those bad air quality days."

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.