Obviously, the ALA is not interested in whether it is hurting anyone's feelings it just wants to ensure that city dwellers have clean air to breathe. Responding to EPA criticism, officials at the Lung Association insist their analysis and report card serves to focus valuable public attention on smog's burgeoning threat to the elderly and young, as well as to asthma sufferers of all ages. Many in the medical community tend to agree. "Poor air quality, which can be influenced by a variety of fumes, chemicals and allergens, is arguably the leading cause of triggers for most asthmatics in urban areas," says TIME medical contributor Dr. Ian Smith. Asthmatics and those prone to allergies should be especially careful if their city performed poorly in the ALA study; Dr. Smith recommends taking steps such as checking the ventilation in apartments to reduce the amount of outside air coming in, avoiding busy traffic areas late in the day (when pollution tends to be at its worst), and investing in air filters to keep the bulk of airborne aggravators at bay.
Very few of us are breathing easy these days. That grim news comes courtesy of an American Lung Association study, released Tuesday, that rates the air quality in cities across the nation and hands failing grades to nearly half. Those receiving F's include a broad cluster of California cities, as well as many other, less predictable metropolitan areas like Birmingham, Ala., and Wilmington, Del. Leaping to the defense of recent, tougher anti-smog regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency has already criticized the report, claiming the ALA rankings, while technically accurate, don't represent the efforts of many pollution-prone cities, like Los Angeles, to improve overall air quality, and, indeed, may serve to undermine their endeavors.