WEST MICHIGAN - Some startling statistics from Chicago show Grand Rapids among the worst cities in the country when it comes to ozone pollution, but is it true?
Air quality experts at Unique Indoor partnered with Digital Third Coast to research the U.S. cities with surprising bad air quality. A startling graphic uses data from the American Lung Association ranked Grand Rapids 18th in the country for the worst ozone pollution, equating one day in the city to 24 minutes in a car with a smoker.
But experts we spoke with aren't buying it, saying the air you breathe in Grand Rapids is cleaner and safer than ever.
"All air pollution levels now are generally lower than they were 25 years ago," said Bill Endres, Air Pollution Control Officer with the Environmental Protection Agency. "The air is getting cleaner on just about everything we measure."
Endres has been analyzing ozone levels for 25 years and says Grand Rapids is sitting in the green at 32 parts per billion - well below the federal standard of 70 parts per billion. However, it's not all good news when it comes to ozone pollution in West Michigan.
"Levels are higher along the lake shore because of the pollutants coming along from the other side of the lake," Endres said.
Andrea Faber, Program Coordinator for West Michigan's Clean Air Action says Allegan, Muskegon, and Barry counties are not, and will not, meet the federal standard for the next five years because of pollutants from across the lake.
"A lot of times what will happen is that a dirty air mass will come from the SW over the lake, and Lake Michigan is the perfect environment for ozone to form," Faber said.
So how do we protect ourselves from high particle and ozone pollution?
"The amount of pollution we put into the air is that much more important," Faber said.
The EPA recently lowered the allowed pollutants in the air from 75 to 70 parts per billion based on the latest scientific of health implications from high ozone levels in the air. This means you can expect to see more Ozone Action Days in the coming months.
"Don't panic. It's a good thing that we're trying to reduce the ozone in the air," said Faber.
You can do your part by eliminating the time you let your car idle (which means skipping the drive-through). Riding a bike instead of driving your car and not mowing you lawn on action days will also help reduce ozone pollution.
So as for why there is a disagreement among these experts, it could be just a different way of interpreting the data. The American Lung Association is basing their statistics off the number of Ozone Action Days we have each year, days when the ozone pollution is above that federal standard. The EPA says, while we still have those days, overall the ozone pollution is on the decline.