Take a deep breath while you can

Depending on who you choose to believe, the State of California is either making progress in its battle against air pollution, or is continuing to fail to protect its residents against dangerous ozones and particulates.

This week, the California Air Pollution Control Officers Association released a report with pretty yellow flowers on the cover espousing the progress the state has made in cleaning its polluted air.

Next week, though, the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” analysis is expected once again to give many California counties a failing “F” grade for air quality.

The executive director of CAPCOA, Kenneth Koyama, told California Watch that their report is designed to counter the message of failure regularly portrayed in “State of the Air:”

“Giving a grade of F suggests to me that whatever the air district has done has failed, and that’s certainly not the case. We’ve introduced programs that we believe have been very innovative to reduce emissions and improve air quality in the state. We believe we’ve done a lot to protect public health.”

The CAPCOA report includes data showing both ozones and particulate matter in the state are down nearly 60 percent since 1980, despite a near-tripling of miles driven by Californians each year.

California also reduced the number of days its air was declared “unhealthy” by 74 percent since 2000, including zero unhealthy days in 2011 in the nine-county greater Bay Area.

Despite noting progress, the report also acknowledges the tremendous cost to public health of air pollution. An estimated 9,200 Californians die each year from heart or lung conditions brought on by dirty air. And In the San Joaquin valley and Southern California alone, the annual health costs are estimated at a whopping $22 billion.

The American Lung Association will release its 2012 State of the Air findings next Wednesday.