NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 29, 2007

Air quality in America's cities is better than it has been in more than a century, with levels of air pollutants declining substantially from 1980 to 2005, according to a recent NCPA study by air researcher Joel Schwartz.  For instance:

  • Peak 8-hour ozone levels declined 20 percent, and days per year exceeding the 8-hour ozone standard fell 79 percent.
  • Fine particulate matter declined 40 percent.
  • Nitrogen dioxide levels decreased 37 percent and sulfur dioxide dropped 63 percent.
  • Carbon monoxide concentrations fell 74 percent and lead dropped 96 percent.

But, despite these improvements, air pollution is being blamed for an increase in respiratory disorders -- especially asthma -- notes NCPA Senior Fellow H. Sterling Burnett. 

Logic and fact shows that air pollution is not the cause, according to Burnett:

  • The incidence of asthma rose 75 percent from 1980 to 1996, and nearly doubled for children; however, air pollution cannot be the cause, since it declined at the same time asthma prevalence increased.
  • Emergency room visits and hospitalizations for asthma are lowest during July and August, when ozone levels are highest. 

Furthermore, asthma rates are highest in wealthy Western countries with relatively low air pollution levels, while developing countries with awful air pollution have low asthma rates. 

Reducing air pollution is costly.  Attaining current federal ozone and fine particulate standards will cost tens to hundreds of billions of dollars per year.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently adopted a tougher fine particulate standard and plans to tighten the ozone standard later this year. 

The resulting increases in the cost of goods and services will leave consumers with less to spend on healthier foods, exercise and medical care -- much more effective ways to improve health and welfare than stricter air quality rules.

Source: H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., "Breathe Easy on Air Quality," National Center for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis No. 577, January 29, 2007.

For text


Browse more articles on Environment Issues