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Among the top-ten biggest population centers in the United States, the Las Vegas metropolitan area is near the top in bad air.
Las Vegas is second only to the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California area with more than 100 days a year of elevated air pollution levels.
This is according to a new study, "Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathe Polluted Air," by Environment Nevada, U.S. PIRG, and the Frontier Group.
“What we found in the report was that air pollution remains a threat to public health," Christy Levitt, senior director at Environment America's Research and Policy Center, told KNPR's State of Nevada.
She said Las Vegas had 145 days of degraded air quality.
Leavitt said that air pollution can cause significant health problems and even premature death.
Two of the biggest pollution problems are ground-level ozone also known as smog and particulate pollution.
Levitt said that smog can cause damage similar to a "sunburn in the lungs" and particulate pollution, which is extremely small, chemically packed particles, can travel into the bloodstream through the lungs.
“In burning fossil fuels like coal and diesel and gasoline, it creates both smog and particulate pollution,” she said.
Smog is caused when two chemicals combine and then are hit by sunlight.
“There are a lot of sunny days in Nevada so that helps to compound and make smog worse,” she said.
And as the climate changes and gets warmer, there are likely to be hotter and sunnier days, Leavitt said. Plus, the warmer climate will likely result in more wildfires, which put more particulate matter into the air.
“As we have more global warming, we’re likely to see more air pollution," she said.
Leavitt says the country needs to be strengthening air quality standards. She disagrees with the Trump administration's efforts to roll back smog standards and clean car standards.
"We want to make sure both of those standards – clean cars and smog standards – stay strong,” she said.
And on the local level, Leavitt said Nevada needs to do more to use renewable energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal.
Not everyone agrees with the study's evaluation of Southern Nevada's air quality, including the manager of the Clark County Department of Air Quality Planning Division.
He told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the study "screams of bias," because it counted days that the EPA has labeled 'moderate' air quality days in its bad air quality count.
Leavitt explained anything with an air quality index of 51 or higher was counted because the current EPA standards are not stringent enough.
“There is no documented safe level of exposure to air pollution," she said, "So even when smog levels are good or moderate as defined by EPA, a modest increase in that pollution results in more deaths.”
She said there is evidence that when air pollution is at the level that the EPA deems acceptable there are still impacts on public health.
Christy Leavitt, Senior Director, Environment America's Research and Policy Center, Washington, DC
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