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Central Florida gets 'A' in clean air; Orlando, not so much

The cooling towers at the Stanton Energy Center, a coal-fired power plant, are seen behind a home in Orlando. Photo courtesy NPR
The cooling towers at the Stanton Energy Center, a coal-fired power plant, are seen behind a home in Orlando. Photo courtesy NPR

Central Florida air ranks among the cleanest metropolitan areas in the country. Orlando, however, has one of the most polluted, according to a new reportby the American Lung Association.

In the 24th annual State of the Air report, the Central Florida metro area, observed no unhealthy days of air for the 7th day in a row. This included Orange, Seminole, Brevard, and Volusia, which all received A-grades. Osceola County received a passing C grade. The report takes measurements from 3,000 locations throughout the country observing unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone, air pollution, and particle pollution. The latter is a diverse mix of solid and liquid particles that are smaller than human hair, are emitted into the atmosphere, and can be harmful to the lungs.

Orlando was not reflective in Central Florida's passing grade and landed the 106th spot for the most polluted year-round particle pollution, said Ashly Lyerly, director of advocacy at the ALA.

“We continue to see people exposed to unhealthy air quality and some of that has to do with continuing to have manmade emissions from industrial power plants and things,” she said. "We do see that yet again, (Orlando) is getting worse for the sixth consecutive year in a row. (It's) kind of moving up the ladder, so to speak, as it relates to year-round particle pollution."

Ozone pollution

The City Beautiful also landed the 65th spot on the most polluted ozone list, which was slightly worse than in 2022 when Orlando ranked 67.

"We did see some improvement in ozone in the metropolitan area, despite the change in the ranking," Lyerly said. "Orlando did tie for 65th most polluted ozone compared to 67 last year, but we did see some improvement with fewer unhealthy days related to ozone."

According to the report, exposure to unhealthy levels of ozone air pollution makes breathing difficult for more Americans all across the country than any other single pollutant with more than 30% of the nation’s population, including 23.6 million children, 15.4 million people age 65 or older, and millions in other groups at high risk of health harm, are exposed to high levels of ozone on enough days to earn the air they breathe a failing grade.

What city was the most polluted?

The city with the No. 1 most polluted air in the country was found in Bakersfield, California, according to the report. Fresno-Medera scored just behind Bakersfield, both measuring over 50 unhealthy days. Seven of the 25 most polluted cities posted their highest-ever weighted average number of days with unhealthy levels of particle pollution.

The report also found that nationally about 5.5% of the total population lives in a county with three failing grades and that 72% of that population are people of color compared to 28% who are white. Out of 120 million people, more than 64 million people of color are disproportionately affected by and live in areas with unhealthy air.

"We know that deadly particle pollution continues to impact all communities across the nation. And that this report finds that almost half a million more people lived in counties that experienced unhealthy spikes in particle pollution. And across for ozone pollution," Lyerly said. "But unfortunately, that still leaves 103 million people lived living in areas with unhealthy ozone pollution, which is really concerning."

What was good about last year?

While the report saw a number of negative points of discussion, ozone pollution overall is trending in a positive direction. Thirty-nine counties in 23 states dropped off the “F” list, including 8 states that left the list completely, some for the first time in the history of the report. At the same time, the number of counties that got an “A” increased by 26%

Not a single Florida county failed the number of unhealthy ozone days, with the majority receiving an A. The county lowest on the list was Hillsborough, which received a D.

Lyerly said while Florida saw improvements across the board, there is still more that residents do.

“There are things to help individuals improve air quality, like if you can choose to walk or ride share or take public transportation somewhere to do that if you can limit the use of your electricity and sort of natural gas resources do that,” Lyerly said. "If you can transition to some sort of zero-emission vehicle, or appliance or something like that, then certainly, that can have an impact at the individual level, and advocating for policies that support clean energy and clean air would be wonderful."

Originally from South Florida, Joe Mario came to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida where he graduated with degrees in Radio & Television Production, Film, and Psychology. He worked several beats and covered multimedia at The Villages Daily Sun but returned to the City Beautiful as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel where he covered crime, hurricanes, and viral news. Joe Mario has too many interests and not enough time but tries to focus on his love for strange stories in comic books and horror movies. When he's not writing he loves to run in his spare time.
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