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Report Shows Increased Air Pollution in St. Louis Region — But Long-Term Trend Still Improving

Missouri Department of Natural Resources

A report released today by the American Lung Association shows that air pollution in the St. Louis region has recently increased.

The annual report ranks the St. Louis area 12th worst among U.S. metropolitan regions for particulate pollution and 25th for ground-level ozone, the main component of smog.

Susannah Fuchs is the Senior Director of Environmental Health for the American Lung Association’s Plains-Gulf Region, which includes Missouri.

Fuchs says ozone has been a particular problem in our region. She says breathing it in is like getting a sunburn on your lungs.

“It affects almost everybody, especially children, the elderly, anybody who works outdoors,” Fuchs said. “It can lead to shortness of breath, it can exacerbate asthma. If you have any kind of lung disease it can make it worse.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asthma alone costs the U.S. more than $50 billion each year in medical costs and lost work and school days.

Fuchs says this year's report includes EPA air quality data from 2009 to 2011.

“When you look at Missouri, and you look at the counties with improved grades, unfortunately, it is none,” Fuchs said. “There are a number of counties where the grades have gotten worse, and that includes St. Louis County and St. Louis City.”

Fuchs says the report doesn't include data for 2012, when air pollution in St. Louis was even worse.

But she stresses that over the 14 years that the American Lung Association has been putting out the report, air quality in our region actually has been improving.

She credits a range of efforts with helping to curb air pollution in and around St. Louis, from people driving less, to businesses reducing their energy use and emissions.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience