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Release Date: 11/20/1996
Contact Information: Dave Schmidt, U.S. EPA, (415) 744-1578

     (San Francisco) --  U.S. EPA today issued a report, entitled 'Breathing Easier 1996:  Air Quality in California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii,' showing substantial progress toward cleaner air in these four states over the last ten years.  Despite major increases in population and auto travel over the past decade, air pollution levels have decreased by about one-third, overall.

     One of the most important signs of progress toward cleaner air has been recorded in California's South Coast Air Basin (Los Angeles area), home to over 15 million people and long known for the nation's worst smog.  Ground-level ozone, or smog, levels exceeded the national health standard on 184 days -- more than half the year -- in 1981.  But in 1995, unhealthy smog levels were recorded on only 107 days.  
     "This report shows that people in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii are breathing cleaner air than they were ten years ago," said David Howekamp, director of U.S. EPA's regional Air Division.  "But much more remains to be done to achieve or simply maintain healthy air in every locality.  We continue to depend on the cooperation of state and local air agencies, and the public, to make further progress."

     Both the number of days in which air pollution has exceeded national air quality standards, and the air pollutant levels have decreased for the six major air pollutants targeted for reduction under the federal Clean Air Act, over the four-state region.    

     Of the six pollutants, the greatest reductions have been recorded for lead (93%), followed by carbon monoxide (35%), and particulate matter (26%).  The tremendous reduction in lead levels has resulted mostly from the phase-out of lead in gasoline.  While all six pollutants are being steadily reduced, ground-level ozone remains a problem in many areas.  Over the four-state region, progress has been slow, with ozone levels down just 12%, on average, since 1986.  Several urban areas, in fact, exceeded the ozone health standard more often in the past couple of years than in the preceding years, and thus have reversed, or at least stalled, the trend toward improvement.

     Since 1990, according to the report, the following  geographic areas have reduced their levels of one or more of these pollutants sufficiently to meet the national health standards for:

         Ground-level Ozone:  Monterey Bay, Chico, and Yuba
          City, California; and Reno, Nevada.  

         Particulate Matter:  Sacramento, Mojave Desert, and
          Mono Lake, California; Ajo, Bullhead City, Douglas,
          Hayden, Miami, Nogales, Paul Spur, Payson, Rillito, and
          Yuma, Arizona.

         Carbon Monoxide:  San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego,
          Sacramento, Fresno, Stockton, Modesto, Chico, and Lake
          Tahoe, California; Reno, Nevada; and Tucson, Arizona.

         Sulfur Dioxide:  In earlier years, violations of the
          national health standard have occurred near copper
          smelters in Arizona, but none have been recorded
          recently.  The only recent violations were from
          naturally-occurring volcanic emissions at Hawaii
          Volcanoes National Park.

         Nitrogen Dioxide:  All areas met the national health
          standard for this smog-forming pollutant.  The last
          violation of the nitrogen dioxide standard was in the
          South Coast Air Basin (Los Angeles Area) in 1991.

         Lead:  All areas met the federal standard.

     Despite the decade-long trend toward cleaner air in all geographic areas, however, some areas still failed to meet federal health standards with regard to certain pollutants during the past few years.  These areas include:  

         Southern California, the San Joaquin Valley,          
          the Sacramento Area, the San Francisco Bay Area, and
          Phoenix, where ground-level ozone levels exceeded the
          federal health standard.

         The South Coast Air Basin (Los Angeles area),
          Southeast Desert, San Joaquin Valley, and Great Basin
          Valley, California; Reno, and Las Vegas, Nevada; and
          Phoenix, Arizona, where particulate levels exceeded the
          federal health standard.

         The South Coast Air Basin (Los Angeles area), Calexico,
          Phoenix, and Las Vegas, where carbon monoxide levels
          exceeded the federal health standard.

     Copies of the 25-page report are available upon request.  To request a copy, please call U.S. EPA at (415) 744-1208.

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