Ohio and Marshall Counties earn favorable air quality grades

Guests congregate at Wheeling’s Heritage Port for a performance. Ohio County earned good grades for air quality from the American Lung Association’s 2024 State of the Air study. File Photo

WHEELING — Residents of Ohio and Marshall counties can rest assured they’re breathing air considered some of America’s cleanest, according to the American Lung Association.

The association released its 2024 State of the Air report Wednesday, where it analyzes and grades air quality for communities across the United States.

Ohio County received a “B” grade regarding ozone and an improved “A” rating for particle pollution, according to the report.

Marshall County received a “B” rating for particle pollution and did not have a recorded ozone rating.

These ratings indicate Ohio and Marshall Counties are breathing “some of the cleanest air in the country,” according to American Lung Association Director of Advocacy Aimee Van Cleave.

Improvement in air quality in both counties coincides with a general trend of improvement in air quality in the country over the past 25 years

The State of the Air Report breaks down the exposure of counties in every state to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone, air pollution, annual particle pollution and short-term spikes in particle pollution over a period of three years.

Air pollution ratings are divided into the categories of High Ozone Days and Particle Pollution, with counties that monitor this data receiving a grade from “A” to “F in these categories.

Ohio County received a “B” for its High Ozone Days Rating. Marshall County has no ozone rating monitor, so it received no rating for the category. Ohio County received an “A” for Particle Pollution levels, the area’s best rating in the past 25 years. Marshall County received a “B” for Particle Pollution levels.

Ozone and air pollution are tied to smog in an area. Factors that can impact smog levels in a county include the number of vehicles on the roads, whether chemical plants are in the area and whether the county is located downwind from an additional pollution source, such as a wildfire.

Particle pollution is impacted by the amount of soot in the air.

American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer Dr. Albert Rizzo explained that high ozone levels and air particles irritate human airways but have different long-term health impacts.

Rizzo likened ozone exposure to a “sunburn in the lungs,” which can lead to pulmonary problems such as coughing, wheezing, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Air particles can enter the bloodstream and cause “more systemic health problems,” such as heart attacks and dementia.

According to Rizzo, favorable Particle Pollution Ratings in Ohio and Marshall Counties contrast with growth in particle pollution in the rest of the country due to increased wildfires, droughts and dust storms.

On top of Particle Pollution improvements, the Wheeling metro area also dropped in the national ranking for ozone pollution, moving from the 116th to the 124th worst city.

“This ranking change is a reflection both of the air improving in West Virginia and other places in the country falling behind,” noted Van Cleave. “A lot of that also has to do with climate change.”

While Ohio and Marshall counties received overall favorable ratings, Van Cleave noted that other counties, such as Brooke County, received an “A” grade in their High Ozone Days rating. Counties that received an “A” grade had an average of 0 unhealthy air days, while Ohio County received a “B” grade for their average of 0.3 unhealthy days per year.

Van Cleave explained that the number of average unhealthy days per year provides a “sort of snapshot” of a county’s air quality. She noted that wildfires in Canada last year were a significant source of air pollution in Wheeling and Marshall counties, which increased the number of unhealthy days in both areas.

Ohio and Marshall counties each had one “Orange Day” for Particle Pollution levels in 2023, meaning that the danger of air pollution damaging one’s lungs was higher than normal. An Orange Day is the lowest warning rating, followed by increased danger levels of Red, Purple and Maroon.

“That Orange rating can come from any kind of increased ozone or particle pollution in the air which can come from anywhere in the country,” explained Van Cleave. “Often we’re looking at something related to forest fires, which may not be from West Virginia itself, but from a region in Canada.”

When an area receives an “Orange Day” rating, at-risk groups are advised to stay indoors, as being outside can damage one’s lungs.

At-risk groups during a drop in air quality are children, seniors and smokers. People with conditions such as chronic lung disease, asthma and lung cancer are also at risk during decreased air quality.

“On Orange Rating tells you that if you go out on that day and you start noticing that you’re having a little bit of a cough when you’re running, or you feel like you just can’t do as much on that day, that indicates you’re being affected by the air quality,” explained Rizzo. “If you have a low level of asthma, for example, you may have to use your inhaler more often that day.”

Rizzo encourages residents to visit airnow.gov to receive daily updates on air quality levels in their area.

Though overall air quality is improving in the country, Van Cleave noted that progressing towards even cleaner air in the coming years will become “more and more difficult” due to climate change. She noted one way to help curb increased ozone and air pollution in Ohio and Marshall counties is to reduce the number of vehicles on the city’s roads and opt for carpooling or riding a bicycle instead.

“Over the last 25 years, we’ve seen incredible improvement in the nation’s air quality, so the number of folks living in places with air similar to that in Wheeling is increasing nationwide,” noted Van Cleave. “At the same time, we can credit that improvement with the Clean Air Act, so I advise residents to continue to call on the EPA to set long overdue stronger national limits on ozone pollution.”


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