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Las Vegas And Reno Top 'Most Polluted Air' Lists

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Nevada skies are almost always blue, but that doesn't mean the air is safe.

The American Lung Association ranks air here as some of the worst in the nation, according to its 2017 State of the Air report.

The Las Vegas Metro Area ranks 10th for worst ozone, or smog, in the nation, and the Reno area ranks 10th for worst short-term particle pollution. 

Janice Nolen with the American Lung Association told KNPR's State of Nevada that ozone is a clear gas that irritates the lungs and particle pollution is a more serious form of pollution because it can get into a person's bloodstream. 

“Not only does it cause things like asthma attacks and coughing and wheezing, but it actually shortens your life," she said, "It causes lung cancer. It causes heart attack and stroke.” It may also be associated with low birth weight and diabetes. 

Las Vegas has the perfect mix to create ozone, Nolen said. The raw ingredients for the gas pour out of the exhaust pipe of cars and then is cooked by the heat of Southern Nevada to create ozone. 

As for Reno, the biggest problem was the wildfires that happen during the time studied. 

“When we talk about pollution that can really harm human health, wildfire smoke is on that list,” she said.

She said since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970 progress has been made in reducing many of the pollutants, which is why although the city ranks high on the list, “But that is still the best we’ve seen, the fewest days we’ve seen for Las Vegas in the history of our report,” Nolen said.

Nolen said her group is very concerned about any rollbacks of the act and possible cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency's budget. She said the EPA funds the kind monitoring they used to create the study and the agency also has the enforcement tools necessary to bring polluters into compliance with the Clean Air Act.

"The Clean Air Act is probably one of the most important public health laws ever passed," she said, "It is the success story that has allowed us to make the progress that we've made."
 

Janice Nolen, assistant vice president for national policy, American Lung Association

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.