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EPA Gives Counties Low Grades for Spring Air Quality


Richmond: Easy to breathe?

Not so much, according to the American Lung Association's annual State of the Air report released May 1.

Actually, don't hold your breath hoping for real numbers for Richmond, which according to the survey is not one of the 20 localities in Virginia where air quality is monitored. The Lung Association relies on Environmental Protection Agency monitoring stations for its data, and Richmond doesn't have one.

But Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties do.

And county data show that taking in the sweet country air might just leave you wheezing. Chesterfield and Hanover each received a C grade and Henrico scored a dismal D in the Lung Association report.

"There aren't enough air-quality monitors to go around based on the funding," says ALA of Virginia's director of advocacy and public education, David DeBiasi. DeBiasi says the lack of monitoring inside the city should cause concern, "because we need to place air quality higher on our list of values, and it's not going to change unless people are speaking up."

That Richmond's air quality is less than pure is a well-known fact of spring -- and about three other seasons around here.

"We're a very allergenic area," say Becky Collie, a lab technician with Virginia Allergy, Pulmonary and Asthma PC, who for the past 20 years has collected daily air-quality data on pollen and mold. The office's data are used by WWBT-NBC12 weather forecasters.

"People come here from other cities and say they were fine until they came here," Collie says. She notes that although the past two weeks are annually among the season's worst because that's when pine trees are doing their thing — "That's all the yellow you see on your car the few days when it's really, really bad," she says — there's really not a particular season in Richmond that's much worse than any other.

DeBiasi, however, says the pine trees are a simple accessory to the real crime committed by man-made polluters. Irritants put in the air by factories, cars, mining operations and power plants are dangerous for reasons very different from naturally occurring allergens. Pollution, he says, harms everyone, while trees and cats and mold cause extreme reactions only in people with specific allergies to them.

"Because what's causing us harm is invisible — it's obviously hard to see — and because it doesn't cause illness immediately, it's hard to wrap your mind around," DeBiasi says.

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