Warm air and sunshine always draw New Englanders outdoors, and we’re lucky when the spring winds blow ocean air back across the North Shore and Merrimack Valley. Next time you get the chance — if not today, when rain is in the forecast, then certainly this weekend — take a deep breath and appreciate that air. Hopefully, it doesn’t make you cough.

The nation’s air is getting worse. That’s the finding of an American Lung Association report out this week, drawing upon government data collected between 2015 and 2017. More than 43 percent of the U.S. population lives in an area that reported unhealthy levels of ozone (smog) or particle pollution (soot) during that period, which is higher than the last two surveys. (It’s not as bad as levels recorded from 2012 to 2014, however, which is a good thing.)

Here in our region, the report gives high marks for a lack of particle pollution, though we don’t do as well for smog. Essex County had nine days during the survey period when ozone levels reached unhealthy levels for sensitive groups, such as people with asthma or chronic lung disease. That’s certainly not as bad as it gets out in California, Phoenix or the New York and Washington, D.C., areas, but nor are we in the clear.

One frustrating part of this, especially when it comes to ozone pollution, is that so much depends upon the weather, as opposed to something more readily addressed locally. “The three years covered in this report ranked as the hottest years on record globally,” noted its authors. “High ozone days and spikes in particle pollution zoomed, putting millions more people at risk and adding challenges to the work cities are doing across the nation to clean up.”

It’s not that we’re helpless. Indeed, the Lung Association notes the fragile condition of the air we breathe should illuminate the importance of national policies like the Clean Power Plan, Clean Air Act and regulations on methane emissions and automobile pollution — all of which have been diluted or are being reconsidered in some fashion.

It’s certainly something to consider as we relish the warmer days of spring.

To read the report, go online at https://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/sota/.

Recommended for you