CMS Connect Login:

Login Assistance

A Failing Grade

New report finds that Cook County’s air quality is worsening

The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2014” report released in late April shows that Cook County has seen no change in year-round particle pollution (soot) levels compared to the 2013 report. This is in spite of a trend seen across the nation of lower particle pollution levels. Cook County has also experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone (smog) and more days when short-term particle pollution has reached unhealthy levels. Metropolitan Chicago ranked as the 14th-most polluted city in the nation for short-term particle pollution, 20th-most polluted for annual particle pollution, and 20th-most ozone polluted, all worse rankings than last year’s report.

Although the air in Chicago is cleaner than when the first report came out 15 years ago, much work remains to be done. Looking at air quality in 2010, 2011 and 2012, Chicago’s air pollution declination shows up in Cook County, which failed to improve its year-round particle pollution, receiving a failing grade. Cook County received an “F” grade for short-term particle pollution, because of too many days of unhealthy particle levels. Particle pollution levels can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end (short-term) or remain at unhealthy average levels every day (year-round). Particle pollution can penetrate deep into the lungs and even into the bloodstream, leading to premature deaths, asthma attacks and heart attacks, as well as lung cancer.

The report also found that Chicago’s ozone levels worsened, resulting in an “F” grade in Cook County where the peak levels from the metro area are monitored. Ozone is the most widespread air pollutant, created by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other sources. When ozone is inhaled, it irritates the lungs and can cause immediate health problems, which may continue days later. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death. Unfortunately, reducing ozone pollution is particularly challenging because warmer temperatures increase the risk, and climate change sets the stage for higher ozone levels in the future.

But Chicago is not alone. Nearly half of Americans—more than 147 million—live in counties where ozone or particle pollution levels make the air unhealthy to breathe, an increase from last year’s report. But on the bright side, while the report shows that the nation’s air quality worsened in 2010-2012, overall quality remains much higher than just a decade ago. Data from the Environmental Protection Agency shows that since 1970, air has gotten cleaner while the population, the economy, energy use and miles driven increased greatly.

As of press time (June 2), the Obama administration had just released a proposal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. Coal-fired power plants account for a large share of the nation’s heat-trapping carbon emissions. The proposed rules, which limit pollutants that contribute to soot, acid rain and ozone, form a key component of the administration’s plan to fight climate change. To view the ALA report, visit

Document Actions

Join CMS

Why join?  The Chicago Medical Society offers many benefits, including career placement, advocacy, networking, and member to member collaboration. Click here to explore all the benefits of membership.

CMS Connect

CMS Connect is an exclusive community that allows members to discuss the issues impacting their practices today. Visit CMS Connect today.