Fresh Air

West Virginians are breathing easier than they have in decades, according to a report released this week by the American Lung Association. In the group’s “State of the Air 2014,” data showed the Mountain State receives much better marks when it comes to air quality.

Deb Brown, president and CEO for the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, said the numbers bear out that West Virginia’s air is markedly cleaner than it was 15 years ago. Here in Wood County, a 24-hour assessment of particle pollution garnered a B grade from the group. And, in the study that examined data over the course of 2010-2012, annual particle pollution in Wood County for the first time got a “pass” grade.

On the other hand, the number of high ozone days in Wood County meant D marks in that category. But that passing grade is also a relatively recent development for the area, and represents 17.5 fewer high ozone days annually than in a 1996 study.

Despite claims to the contrary, West Virginia is making significant progress when it comes to air quality. Meanwhile, according to the American Lung Association’s reports, in all three categories, the top-five most polluted cities in the country are all in California.

California is home to the strictest environmental regulations in the U.S. Its Environmental Protection Agency is one of the most powerful agencies controlled by the governor’s office. But in addition to being home to the five cities with the most polluted air in the country, California is also home to more superfund sites than any other state.

Clearly, California has failed to make the leap between regulation and reality, and the official solution has been to pile on more regulation while refusing to look at reality. West Virginia has more work to do, there is no doubt. But imagine, 20 years ago, if local officials had told the folks in Washington, D.C., that Wood County would have a B grade from the American Lung Association in any category by 2014. They would not have been believed.

Congratulations, then, to those who have worked so hard to improve the air we breathe. It is important that we all keep up the good work.