BREVARD COUNTY - Breathe easy, Brevard County. The air here is some of the cleanest in the country.
The American Lung Association gave Brevard its top grades in key measures of air pollution in its annual "State of the Air" report released April 18.
The Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville region received "A" grades for ozone and particle pollution levels. Brevard tied for first for cleanest metropolitan areas in the U.S. for ozone and 24-hour particle pollution, and ranked 179th out of 187 metro areas for annual particle pollution.
Since 1996, the number of days of above-normal levels of ozone, or "smog" -- the chemical reaction of sunlight, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere -- in Brevard fell from 11.5 days to zero, according to the report. And since 2003, the number of days of unhealthy levels of particle pollution, which includes dust and soot, also dropped 0.3 days to zero.
Released yearly since 2000, the report looked at levels of ozone and particle pollution found in official monitoring sites across the United States from 2014 to 2016. Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and can increase the risk of premature death and other serious health effects such as lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.
The report found ozone pollution worsened significantly in 2014-2016 compared to the previous report, while year-round particle pollution improved and the number of high-particle days dropped.
Compared to the 2017 report, Florida saw a slight reduction in ozone pollution.
Brevard's coastal neighbors, Volusia and Indian River counties, earned "B" grades from the ALA.
Hillsborough County was the only Florida county to earn an "F" grade.
Eric Needle, founder of GreenBrevard.com, said although Brevard earned a top rating for air quality, he's not sure the ALA report included "all the information that matters."
"We see air quality issues year round," said Mr. Needle, whose website is an online forum for promoting greener living and more sustainable communities. "If you factor in pollen count, the occasional red tide, heat and transportation issues, I think there's things we can do to improve."
Traffic issues are a constant problem in Brevard, Mr. Needle said.
"More than increased drive times and frustrated drivers, pollution increases as we sit at red lights," he said. "Coordinating traffic flow with modern, integrated systems that follow traffic and manage congestion during peak times would be an easy fix that could make all of our lives better."
Nationally, Los Angeles, California, remained the city with the worst ozone pollution as it has for nearly the entire history of the report. Fairbanks, Alaska, moved for the first time into the most polluted slot for year-round particle pollution, and Bakersfield, California, was once again the city with the worst short-term particle pollution.
Overall, more than 133.9 million people -- about 40 percent of the U.S. population -- lived in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution, the report found.
"This year's report provides continued evidence that the United States must continue to fight climate change and support and enforce the Clean Air Act to protect the nation from unhealthy air," the report stated.