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Six NM counties get failing grades for ozone levels

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Of the nine New Mexico counties for which air pollution data was collected and analyzed by the American Lung Association, six have been given an “F” for ozone levels and three have been given a “C”.

Getting positive news were the Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Vegas metro areas, which tied for No. 1 in the nation for the lowest short-term particulate pollution levels.

Chaves County is among the 24 counties in the state for which no data has been collected.

The counties receiving failing grades for ozone levels by the “State of the Air” report released Wednesday are Bernalillo, Doña Ana, Eddy, Lea, San Juan and Sandoval, with the Las Cruces-El Paso metro area ranked 13th in the nation for highest ozone levels. Those receiving Cs are Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Valencia counties.

Counties receiving an “F” had nine or more days with ozone levels higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. Counties with a “C” had three to six days above the ozone standards.

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Most of those counties did not have information collected on particulate pollutants such as chemicals, dust, dirt, soot or smoke. Three did. Bernalillo County received an “A” grade for 24-hour particle pollutant levels and a “pass” for annual levels. Doña Ana received a “D” for 24-hour levels, but a pass for annual levels. Lea received a “B” for 24-hour levels and a pass for annual levels.

The State of the Air report has been produced by the American Lung Association since 2000. It used information gathered from 2017 to 2019 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at its air monitoring sites or by other means.

According to the association website, the federal Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set standards for and monitor six types of air pollutants: ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and lead. The association indicates that it focuses on ozone and particle pollution because it considers these to be among the most widespread and potentially dangerous.

Since the Clean Air Act was enacted, air pollutants have decreased 77%, the website states. But the 2021 State of the Air report concluded that more than 135 million U.S. residents, or 41.1% of the population, live in 217 counties with unhealthy levels of air pollutants. Ozone levels in the U.S. have improved since 2020, so now 14.8 million fewer people live in unhealthy air environments. Particle pollutants, however, have increased overall, with 1.1 million more people living in areas with high levels than in 2020.

The report also concluded that non-white residents are more at risk for living in areas with air pollution problems. “People of color were 61% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one pollutant, and over three times as likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all three pollutants,” the website stated.

Medical and environmental researchers have linked air pollutants to low birth weights, premature births and health conditions such as lung disease, strokes and heart attacks.

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