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Air quality report gives Hillsborough County a failing grade for ozone levels

Tampa Bay Next

Hillsborough was the only county in the state to receive an “F” on the State of the Air report from the American Lung Association. 

An air quality report released by the American Lung Association ranked Hillsborough 52nd in the nation when it comes to ozone pollution.

It was also the only county in Florida to receive a failing grade on the report because of the number of days it recorded with high-ozone levels between 2018 and 2022.

Ozone, or smog, is a highly reactive gas that develops when atmospheric gasses combine with sunlight and heat. The amount of ozone becomes more prevalent when temperatures are higher during the spring and summer.

“When you receive a failing grade for ozone pollution and you have unhealthy days for high ozone you certainly have a higher prevalence of those gasses that are reacting with sunlight,” said Ashley Lyerly, senior director of advocacy in Florida for the American Lung Association.

Metropolitan areas like Hillsborough have high levels of ozone mainly because of the number cars that are on the area’s roads. Activities such as pumping gas and mowing lawns also contribute to smog, Lyerly said. Factory pollution is another cause.

High levels of ozone in the atmosphere can cause serious health risks, such as asthma, cardiovascular damage and developmental and reproductive harm.

People can reduce their risks by paying attention to daily air quality reports and taking the appropriate precautions when pollution levels are high, Lyerly said.

To improve their air quality, Hillsborough residents can adopt lifestyle changes, including reducing their carbon footprint, she said.

She also recommends not overfilling a vehicle’s gas tank and refraining from lawn mowing during peak temperatures in the summer.

“There are certain things that you can do as an individual that can have an impact on air pollution,” she said.

Despite trends that have helped reduce overall air pollution, the amount of people impacted by particle pollution in the United States increased by nearly 9 million compared to last year.

Americans experienced more “hazardous” air quality days over the past few years than had ever been recorded, the report said.

More than 40% of Americans — over 137 million people — are living in places with failing grades for unhealthy levels of particle pollution or ozone. And communities of color are often disproportionately affected, the report said.

There have been many efforts over the past 50 years to reduce the amount of pollution in the air, including the Clean Air Act, which was enacted in 1970. However, the report recognizes that climate change is playing a larger role in the reduction of air quality. Rising sea temperatures and fluctuating weather patterns are increasing ozone levels at a dramatic rate.

Lyerly urged everyone to advocate for stronger federal standards around short-term and year-round particle pollution.

“I think we, as a community, can do a number of things that hopefully can reverse the trend on climate change,” she said. “And really pay attention to the reduction of pollutants in the air that hopefully will slow down the change that we are seeing in our local communities and nationally.”

Katrine Bruner is the WUSF Rush Family/Health News Florida intern for spring 2022.