Report says 40 percent of the public breathes unhealthy air

More than 40 percent of the public lives in regions with unhealthy levels of air pollution, a new report from the American Lung Association says.

The public health group, in its annual State of the Air report, said air quality has dramatically improved in recent decades as a result of the Clean Air Act. But it warned that more action is needed to better protect the public from air pollution like smog or soot.

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The report finds that more than 127.2 million people, or 41 percent of the public, live in counties that have unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution, which experts say can aggravate respiratory problems like asthma and lung disease.

But the report notes that many cities are making major progress in reducing pollution levels.

“Twenty-two of the 25 cities with the most ozone pollution improved their air quality over the past year’s report,” the new study says. “More than half of the country’s most smog-polluted cities experienced their best year yet.”

The report analyzed information gathered from monitoring sites in 2008, 2009 and 2010, the most up-to-date data available.

The Obama administration has issued a slew of regulations in recent years aimed at improving air quality, including rules to limit air pollution from industrial boilers and natural-gas drilling. Republicans in Congress have taken aim at the Environmental Protection Agency, working to limit or repeal several major air pollution regulations because of their cost.

President Obama scuttled planned EPA regulations that would have tightened existing ozone standards, a major defeat for public health groups like the American Lung Association.

The groups argue that the existing ozone standards, put in place during the George W. Bush administration, don’t fully protect the public.

But the planned regulations came under intense scrutiny from Republicans, who said the rules would put a major burden on industry.

Obama, in scuttling the tighter ozone rules, cited his pledge to reduce regulatory uncertainty for businesses and said the regulations are slated to come up for review in 2013.