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Fair air

by Tom Hasslinger
| April 29, 2010 9:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - Ahhh, that's some splendid air.

Walkers, joggers, cyclists, outdoor enthusiasts or anyone just breathing - rejoice. Coeur d'Alene's air quality is among the best in the nation, a recent study announced.

The Coeur d'Alene area ranked third in American cities with the healthiest ozone pollution levels, according to the State of the Air pollution report put out by the American Lung Association.

That should make local lungs happy.

"Not only do you have a beautiful place to live, but you have good air too," said Carrie Nyssen, ALA director for Idaho, Alaska and Washington. "And in a community like yours where people enjoy being outdoors it's nice to know they don't have to worry about air quality."

Ozone pollution refers to ground level pollution - commonly referred to as smog - that is created when hydrocarbons typically from gasoline or exhaust interact with sunlight.

That combustion then lingers at breathing levels, and irritates lungs. That irritation - described as a sunburn on the lungs -can lead to asthma, or even the increased risk of an early death, according to the ALA.

"It's a really nasty air pollutant," Nyssen said. "It does damage to everyone, even young healthy lungs."

The ranking is only behind the greater Brownsville area in Texas and Bismarck, N.D., which took the top spot. The American Lung Association monitors the ozone pollution levels in areas of populations around 350,000 and greater.

Weather, traffic patterns and populations are the top reasons Coeur d'Alene ranks so high.

Since ozone pollution is created through a "cooking" process from sunlight, North Idaho's cooler weather helps break it up, whereas cities with the worst levels are bigger cities in warm climates. Precipitation and wind, especially on random summer days, help keep the air clean, said Mark Boyle, air quality manager for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

"It's good air, and a good place to live," he said, adding that the economy could play a role in the air quality as well, with fewer people driving cars, paying for gas, and more people using Citylink to get around.

Coeur d'Alene has monitored its levels since 2005. In 2009, it also ranked at the top of the list.

At the bottom of the list for ozone levels this year- or top three for the worst - are a trio of California cities: Los Angeles, Bakersfield, and Visalia, respectively.

"Oh gosh, I'd hate to run down there," said Erin Yeck, a Coeur d'Alene jogger out for a run on Wednesday. "I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. We are lucky, aren't we? Thanks for reminding me. I was grumpy earlier because it was windy."

The 11th annual report said Butte and Kootenai counties are two of the cleanest Idaho counties for ozone air. But Ada and Shoshone counties breathe air that is "often dangerous and a public health issue that impacts even healthy individuals," including children, it said.

The report also monitored the best and worst areas for short- and long-term particle pollution. Long pollution monitored levels over a year. Phoenix was ranked the worst, while Cheyenne, Wyo., was ranked the best. Bakersfield was rated the lowest in short-term particle pollution and Alexandria, La., was placed the highest.

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