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Despite Improvements, Louisville Air Quality Still Lags

The air around Louisville is among the most polluted in the country according to a new study.

The American Lung Association ranked the region around Louisville 21st out of the nation's 25 most polluted cities for year-round particle pollution.

The study looked at fine particulate matter from things including car exhaust, dust and soot over three years between 2014 and 2016.

Despite the ranking, the city’s air quality is improving, said Keith Talley, director of Louisville’s Air Pollution Control District.

“What I would point out is it is a positive trend, we are moving down that list. [Particulate matter] pollution is improving every year and will continue to work at that,” Talley said.

It’s true, Louisville ranked 13 out of the 25 most polluted cities for year-round particle pollution last year. The change reflects an improvement in the city's air quality, but also that other cities have gotten worse, said Heather Werheim, spokeswoman for the American Lung Association.

Still, data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows that the region around Louisville has steadily reduced the amount of fine particles floating around in the air.

The American Lung Association says that year-round exposure increases the risk of infant mortality, death from cardiovascular disease and the development of asthma in children.

Louisville is having a harder time dealing with ozone, otherwise known as smog.

The report gave the city a failing grade for having an average of 9.2 high ozone days per year between 2014 and 2016.

Last year, the city didn’t meet EPA standards for ozone, Talley said.

Health impacts of high ozone include an increased risk of premature death, asthma attacks, respiratory infection and shortness of breath, according the American Lung Association. Those most at risk are children, people over the age of 65 and those with pre-existing lung and heart diseases.

Talley said part of the problem is the city’s topography. Not only is the city more densely populated, with more cars and more traffic, but it also sits in a valley, where the smog can settle.

“There’s always more to do," said Talley. "I mean there are obvious health impacts to pollution so we will continue to do the work that is necessary to make the air as clean as we can.”

Kentucky also had some of the cleanest counties in the country for short-term particle pollution. Those includes Boyd, Campbell, Daviess, Warren, Henderson and Madison counties.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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