RALEIGH — With the American Lung Association’s latest national rankings on air quality due out today, John Locke Foundation analysts urge caution in interpreting the association’s “biased” data.
“There is good news about air quality in North Carolina, yet little of it is to be found in the latest State of the Air report from the American Lung Association,” said Dr. Roy Cordato, vice president for research at JLF and the author of several reports on North Carolina air-quality and ozone trends.
When researching the most recent data from the NC Division of Air Quality, Cordato discovered that in 2004 North Carolina had the fewest number of high-ozone days ever — following directly on the heels of 2003, which which also set a record low. In fact, 2004 continued a downward trend: from 1998 to 2004 the average number of high ozone days per ozone monitor in the state fell from 14 days to less than one day a year.
Environmental scientist and Locke Foundation Adjunct Scholar Joel Schwartz said that “ongoing declines in ozone-forming pollution explain the long-term downward trend.”
The ALA’s reporting “ignores all of this information by focusing on old data from 2001 to 2002,” said Schwartz, who also noted that 2002 was an outlier year because of an atypical hot summer. “It is irresponsible to title a report The State of the Air: 2005 while presenting data that are as much as four years old and ignoring the most recent data available.”
The author of a recent Locke Foundation paper on air-quality trends, Schwartz added that nationwide “the fraction of monitors violating EPA’s 8-hour ozone standard fell from 44 percent in 2003 to 31 percent in 2004.”
The Locke Foundation reviewed data for the state’s three largest metropolitan areas and found the same downward trend. Charlotte, the Triad, and the Triangle all had record low ozone levels in 2004. Charlotte went from a high of 25 days per ozone monitor in 1998 to slightly more than one in 2004; and the Triad and Triangle dropped from 13 and 18 days respectively in 1998 to less than one in 2004.
Because North Carolina has more ozone monitors per capita than many other states do, the Locke analysts noted that the ALA does not present an accurate picture of how North Carolina’s air quality compares to that of other regions. To gain more accurate information regarding the state’s ozone problem, the NC Division of Air Quality increases the number of monitors every few years.
“Because of this, year-to-year comparisons that do not adjust for the changing number of monitors will be useless,” Cordato said. “The more monitors a state has, the more likely it is that any one monitor will register high ozone.” The ALA report never adjusts for changes in the number of monitors, either from year-to-year, state-to-state, or county-to-county. “Therefore,” Cordato said, “all state-by-state and county-by-county rankings in the ALA study are meaningless.”
“Most importantly,” he added, “the ALA grading system is designed to maximize the number of Fs.” The ALA system is much more stringent than even the EPA’s very tough new standards. In reviewing last year’s study, Cordato found that “of the 18 monitors in North Carolina that were in complete compliance with the EPA, 12 received an F under the ALA grading system.”
For more information about the ALA’s report, call Cordato at 919-828-3876 or visit the Locke Foundation’s main web site.