CUYAHOGA COUNTY, Ohio — Have you been having trouble breathing? It may have everything to do with Cuyahoga County’s ozone levels.
The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2012” gave the county a failing grade for ozone and rated particulate pollution levels as unhealthy. The news only gets worse from there.
Cuyahoga County has been rated as one of the dirtiest counties in the United States for carbon monoxide emissions and other pollutants.
“Ozone can cause chest pain, it can aggravate asthma,” said Vijay Nemalparu from the Northeast Ohio Area-wide Coordinating Agency and member of the Cleveland Industrial Air Pollution Advisory Committee.
He and other committee members told Cleveland City Council on Monday it would be 2015 before federal air quality standards would be met for the most common pollutants, including ozone and lead.
The good news is Cleveland meets the air quality standard for both coarse and fine particles, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.
The committee told council there is a direct correlation between poor health and living close to traffic.
Committee member Jason Bristol suggested quality of life could be improved for residents if council could reduce idle times at traffic lights.
The current system of lights was established when Cleveland had a population of 1,000,000; today’s residents number closer to 400,000.
The lights are timed for a much larger population, meaning people are sitting at red lights longer.
“We have discussed the fact that if we could synchronize the traffic signals like many cities of choice are now doing, we could increase the flow of traffic, we could reduce wait time, idling time, fuel usage and the impact on our air,” said Bristol.
The committee was appointed by the mayor and council to advise the Division of Air Quality on how it could better work to reduce air pollution.
“If you go to cities like Portland, or if you’ve ever landed at LaGuardia, you see most of the thoroughfares with all of the lights timed and all of the traffic moving,” said Bristol. “Many cities have lights flash at cross sections that aren’t very busy, so that a car simply makes a complete stop at the traffic light, and then proceeds on.”
While Cleveland doesn’t meet all the air quality standards set by the federal government, Nemalparu said the city is making progress with 21 fewer ozone incident days this year as compared to 1996.
Council members assured the committee they would continue efforts to educate the public on the link between air quality and health.
They also pledged to take a closer look at Cleveland’s system of traffic lights.