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Massachusetts’ air quality has worsened, report says

A flock of geese flew past a smokestack at a coal power plant.
A flock of geese flew past a smokestack at a coal power plant.(Charlie Riedel/Associated Press/File 2009)

Massachusetts’ air quality has worsened over the past couple of years, according to a new report released Wednesday.

“Massachusetts residents should be aware that we’re breathing unhealthy air, driven by emissions from power plants and extreme heat as a result of climate change, placing our health and lives at risk,” Elizabeth Hamlin-Berninger, American Lung Association director of advocacy in Massachusetts, said in a statement.

The 2019 “State of the Air” report, released by the ALA, found that Barnstable, Bristol, Hampden, and Hampshire counties all received F’s for their amount of bad ozone level days. Dukes, Plymouth, Suffolk, and Worcester counties all received C’s and D’s, lower grades than last year.

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A total of 97 bad ozone days — either unhealthy for sensitive groups or unhealthy for everyone — were recorded around the state over the three-year period ending in 2017. That was higher than the 59 days found in the three-year period ending in 2016.

As temperatures rise, ozone is more likely to form and becomes harder to clean up, the report stated.

On the bright side, all but three of the counties for which data were available reported slight decreases in a different measure of air pollution, year-round particle levels. (Berkshire, Hampden, and Suffolk were the exceptions.)

“This follows the nationwide trend, showing progress in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution,” the ALA said in a statement.

Nationally, four of 10 Americans were found to have lived in a county that had unhealthy air, the report stated.

Data for this year’s report was collected between 2015 and 2017, the three hottest years ever recorded for global temperature, the ALA noted. The data showed that 141.1 million people across the country lived in counties that had “unhealthful levels” of ozone or particle pollution, soot or tiny particles, over that time period, an increase of more than 7.2 million from the 2018 report.

Both types of air pollution can be deadly, the ALA said, possibly increasing the risk of premature death and causing other serious health effects such as lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.

“We’re heading in the wrong direction when it comes to protecting public health,” Hamlin-Berninger said.

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Climate change-fueled forest fires and weather patterns contributed to the worsening air quality in the United States, the report stated.

The general increase in unhealthy air is “eye-opening,” ALA president and CEO Harold Wimmer said in a statement. Something needs to be done to prevent people from serious harm from the air quality, he said.

“There is no clearer sign that we are facing new challenges than air pollution levels that have broken records tracked for the past twenty years, and the fact that we had more days than ever before when monitored air quality reached hazardous levels for anyone to breathe,” Wimmer said.

Bangor, Maine, and the Burlington-South Burlington area in Vermont were named by the association as two of the six cleanest-air cities in the country.

“Every American deserves to breathe healthy air that won’t make them sick,” Wimmer said. “The American Lung Association calls on the Administration and Congress to protect and prioritize Americans’ health by taking urgent action to fight air pollution and address climate change.”


Breanne Kovatch can be reached at breanne.kovatch@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @breannekovatch.