By CELESTE BOTT
Capital News Service
LANSING – Michigan has reduced overall air pollution since 2012, but its most populous counties still don’t earn a passing grade, according to a new report from the American Lung Association.
Its State of the Air report provides grades of A to F in two areas: particle pollution and ozone action days.
The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) declares ozone days when smog and weather conditions create the risk of health problems.
Wayne and Macomb counties received failing grades in the ozone day category. Other counties that failed include Allegan and Muskegon, while Oakland, Ottawa and St. Clair received Ds.
However, Allegan, Muskegon, Ottawa, Macomb and Oakland received As in particle pollution, or soot.
The report uses the most recent air pollution data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency. That data comes from the official county monitors for ozone and particle pollution.
No county in Michigan scored As in both categories – but many received high marks in the particle pollution category, including Manistee, Lenawee and Ingham.
“The air in Michigan is certainly cleaner than when we started the ‘State of the Air’ report 14 years ago,” said Jim Harrington, field organizer for the association in Michigan. “Even though there are increases in unhealthy days of high ozone, the air quality is still better compared to a decade ago.
“But the work isn’t done, and we must set stronger health standards for pollutants and cleanup sources of pollution,” he said.
But Brad Wurfel, communications director for DEQ, said that the report is misleading.
“The Lung Association is a stellar organization, but if I’m being generous, I’d say this report is skewed,” Wurfel said.
The department had similar criticisms for the group’s report in 2011, saying it analyzed state-reported data to its own standards.
Wurfel said that Michigan’s ambient air quality meets EPA standards, and has in fact improved immensely in recent years.
“Do we still have issues to address? Of course,” Wurfel said. “But the state’s air quality is the best it’s been in decades.”
Some environmental groups are acting to reduce the number of ozone action days in industrial regions like Wayne County.
According to Brad Van Guilder, a Michigan Sierra Club organizer, coal-fueled power plants like DTE Energy Co.’s Monroe, Trenton Channel, River Rouge, St. Clair, Belle River and Marysville plants were the greatest contributors to ozone days last summer.
“Coal pollution is 100 percent preventable,” Van Guilder said. “Michigan summers should be enjoyed by our children, yet they’re being forced indoors by an avoidable threat.”
In March, the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club sued DTE, citing more than 1,400 violations of the federal Clean Air Act from emissions at coal-fired power plants.
“DTE’s coal fleet is outdated and out of compliance, and Southeast Michigan families deserve better than dirty air in our communities,” said Patrick Geans, another Sierra Club organizer.
A report from the Michigan Environmental Council showed those outdated plants may cost Michigan residents $1.5 billion annually in health care costs.
Chris Kolb, president of the council, said coal plants could also influence electric bills.
“Keeping these plants limping along is expensive – both in the cost of increasing electricity rates and in health insurance premiums, copays and other expenses related to the damage they do,” Kolb said.
Using census data, the Lung Association also identifies populations that face the greatest risk due to air pollution and ozone action days in the report. Those at risk include people with asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and those in poverty.
Online Resources for CNS editors
Coal plant report: http://environmentalcouncil.org/mecReports/PublicHealthImpactsofOldCoal-FiredPowerPlantsinMichigan.pdf
State of the Air ALA report:
By CELESTE BOTT