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Editorial: The outlook for clean air in the Valley

Though Hampshire County still fails an important air-quality measure, it is encouraging that the region isn’t logging as many “orange zone” days as it once did. That’s a measure the federal Environmental Protection Agency uses to mark days of unhealthy air, based on monitors that record the presence of ozone, a key pollutant in smog.

Even so, people with breathing problems pay a price for living in an area whose landscape traps bad air moving from the south and west through New England. For them, the American Lung Association’s yearly report card lands with a sickening thud.

In 2012, the county recorded 10 orange zone days, enough for an “F” grade. While 10 orange zone days is down from 24 in 1996, and while the EPA has two categories of even worse air quality, it’s bad news for those with lung diseases and the very young and old. Exposure to ozone irritates lungs, causing coughing, wheezing and triggering asthma attacks. High ozone levels send people to emergency rooms or hospitalizations and drive increased use of medications. (For more information on the report, visit stateoftheair.org.)

People continue to suffer consequences here for pollution produced by distant drivers and far-off factories.

But not all threats to air quality drift in. For years, the coal-fired power plant in Holyoke has pumped out pollutants; the fact that it may be phased out due to competition from cheaper and more abundant natural gas is a big win for Valley air quality. And as a local doctor notes, activities here, such as the use of wood-burning stoves and the idling of diesel-powered vehicles, also degrade air quality. Much of this problem people in the Valley can’t control. But some we can.

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