May 1, 2015

Report: 500,000+ New Mexicans at risk from breathing dirty air; Coal-fired plants and dirty diesel contribute

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A new report from the American Lung Association says more than 500,000 (about 1-in-4) New Mexicans are at risk for air-pollution related illnesses and the state’s two most populous counties, which account for almost half of the state’s population, get failing grades for air quality.

Many state and local leaders are sure to see the report as a call to action, so conservative pro-business groups took to social media and email in a rapid-response effort to deflect from the report’s major conclusions.

The New Mexico Business Coalition was the first to weigh in to redefine the report.

From their email Thursday morning:

What? No Air Pollution Crises in NM?  Radical environmental groups have been shouting, protesting and spending thousands of dollars on advertising to say there is a toxic air pollution crisis in New Mexico.

NMBC is apparently referring to billboard and media campaigns by New Energy Economy and allies highlighting the rising health dangers from coal burning power, primarily at PNM’s San Juan Generating Plant in the Four Corners area.

New Energy Economy’s “Coal Hurts” billboard appearing around Albuquerque

While the report does note that San Juan County, like most of New Mexico’s less populous areas, has one of the country’s lowest instances of particulate pollution, it also gives Bernalillo and Dona Ana Counties D and F grades, respectively, for air quality and counts more than 1-in-4 New Mexicans at risk for air-pollution related illnesses.

County-by-County Threats to Health

Late in 2014, scientists from some of the nation’s most prestigious universities released a report outlining steps to improve air quality and public health:

According to a new report, strong limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants could improve air quality and prevent an estimated 3,500 premature deaths along with other significant benefits to human health.

The report, Health Co-Benefits of Carbon Standards for Existing Power Plants, released on September 30 by Harvard, Syracuse and Boston Universities, evaluates alternative approaches for reducing carbon pollution from power plants, and shows that limits must be strong, flexible and enforceable to achieve the greatest health benefits for the American people.

The American Lung Association’s new report finds that more than 500,000 New Mexicans are at risk of developing pollution-related illnesses.   Here is the breakdown, county-by-county, for New Mexico:

 

County  Total Pop  Under 18  65 & Over  Pediatric Asthma  Adult Asthma  COPD  CV Disease  Diabetes Poverty Estimate
Bernalillo 674,221 156,601 91,920 12,871 47,777 29,716 37,869 53,583 124,381
Catron 3,607 540 1,178 44 281 238 355 458 776
Chaves 65,823 18,034 9,562 1,482 4,404 2,827 3,686 5,121 13,616
Cibola 27,335 6,664 3,771 548 1,908 1,201 1,540 2,176 7,986
Colfax 13,094 2,565 2,951 211 968 712 996 1,334 2,540
Curry 50,598 13,840 5,795 1,138 3,388 1,977 2,447 3,463 10,352
De Baca 1,907 422 439 35 137 103 146 194 418
Do�a Ana 213,460 55,306 28,943 4,546 14,567 8,941 11,418 15,913 56,536
Eddy 55,471 14,453 7,790 1,188 3,786 2,417 3,124 4,396 8,301
Grant 29,328 6,156 6,884 506 2,125 1,571 2,222 2,924 6,427
Guadalupe 4,551 923 813 76 334 223 298 408 1,029
Harding 693 113 211 9 53 44 65 84 105
Hidalgo 4,654 1,125 872 92 325 227 309 421 1,180
Lea 68,062 20,393 7,223 1,676 4,403 2,603 3,212 4,623 9,729
Lincoln 20,105 3,763 5,090 309 1,501 1,154 1,651 2,184 3,757
Los Alamos 17,798 4,148 2,931 341 1,262 868 1,155 1,627 715
Luna 24,659 6,310 5,086 519 1,682 1,192 1,660 2,188 7,517
McKinley 73,308 22,260 7,543 1,830 4,718 2,789 3,431 4,968 29,321
Mora 4,704 913 1,000 75 349 255 352 480 1,115
Otero 65,616 16,080 10,361 1,322 4,559 2,933 3,853 5,289 13,452
Quay 8,662 1,818 2,000 149 629 467 658 874 2,222
Rio Arriba 40,072 9,736 6,347 800 2,800 1,861 2,455 3,428 9,874
Roosevelt 19,955 5,079 2,420 417 1,370 798 992 1,391 4,635
San Juan 126,503 35,105 15,612 2,885 8,442 5,219 6,607 9,418 27,265
San Miguel 28,541 5,757 5,046 473 2,101 1,419 1,892 2,618 8,919
Sandoval 136,575 34,301 19,473 2,819 9,449 6,106 7,911 11,189 20,774
Santa Fe 147,423 29,275 27,128 2,406 10,900 7,518 10,114 13,988 26,209
Sierra 11,572 1,810 3,811 149 891 742 1,111 1,407 3,042
Socorro 17,584 4,140 2,827 340 1,239 812 1,070 1,480 4,746
Taos 33,035 6,369 6,904 523 2,457 1,770 2,439 3,320 8,606
Torrance 15,717 3,580 2,707 294 1,120 767 1,026 1,427 4,183
Union 4,370 795 852 65 329 222 299 404 743
Valencia 76,284 19,166 11,171 1,575 5,275 3,435 4,473 6,302 17,450
TOTAL: 2,085,287 507,540 306,661 41,713 145,529 93,127 120,836 169,080 437,921

 

In addition, several New Mexico counties were graded on various air quality standards.

San Juan and Eddy Counties, both home to prolific oil and gas extraction, were given a “C” for having too many high ozone days.

Bernalillo County received “D” grades for particle pollution and high ozone days.

Dona Ana County was the only county to receive an “F” in particle pollution measurements.

 

 

Environmental Watchdogs Call for More Action

Unlike politically conservative business groups, environmental advocates read the report as a call for action across the west.

From the Environmental Defense Fund:

It’s report card time for air quality in the U.S. and, unfortunately, several western states are getting grades of “needs improvement.” That’s the take-away from the American Lung Association’s (ALA) annual “State of the Air” report released today. When it comes to unhealthy ozone pollution (commonly referred to as “smog”), several western states are simply not making the grade.

Once mainly seen in major urban areas, smog pollution is now becoming more and more of an issue in the rural mountain west. This is bad news for local residents as smog can cause serious health impacts like aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, and heart attacks…

One of the main culprits?  Air pollution from oil and gas development. Ozone pollution is created by an interaction between two different sorts of air pollutants, oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  Oil and gas development provides a significant source of both of these air contaminants across many parts of the West.

In the report released today, 14 counties across the Rocky Mountain region (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) received failing grades from the ALA due to unhealthy levels of ozone pollution and an additional six counties received “D” grades.

Environmental Defense Fund, Apr. 30, 2015

 

Learn more

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