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Lung Association Report: Air Quality Improving In Maine

Downtown Lewiston, Maine, is seen Friday, March 17, 2017. In early 2001, a few Somalian families struggling to afford housing in Portland, ventured 30 miles north to Lewiston, and a found a city in retreat. This once-dying American mill town has since been revived by an influx of some 7,500 African immigrants. Androscoggin County where Lewiston sits, a place some point to as proof that refugee integration can work, for the first time in 30 years voted for a Republican presidential candidate. The majority of voters here accepted Trump's nativist stance against the very sort of refugees and asylum seekers that share their county and their schools. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
David Goldman
AP file
Downtown Lewiston, Maine, is seen Friday, March 17, 2017. Androscoggin County earned top marks for ozone pollution in the American Lung Association's 2021 State of the Air report.

Most of Maine has been breathing easier, according to the latest State of the Air report from the American Lung Association.

The report, made public Thursday, looks back at the three-year period 2017-2019 and documents the levels of two key types of pollution: small particles and ozone. The group's director of environmental health, advocacy and public policy, Kevin Stewart, says much of the state saw low levels of small particle pollution, the stuff left behind by burning almost any kind of fuel.

"And these particles are very, very tiny. They get into the deepest part of the lungs; some of them can even cross over into the bloodstream. And we know that people who have chronic diseases, like asthma, can experience problems breathing them. But also people who have cardiovascular disease, heart disease, are more likely to experience heart attacks and strokes, and prematurely die from breathing fine particles," he says.

Both the Portland and Bangor areas are among the "cleanest 25 cities for year-round particle pollution." Portland also improved on ozone pollution, as did York County, which saw just a day and a half of unhealthy air per year, on average, over the three-year reporting period. That compared to an average of more than 22 unhealthy days a year in the early 2000's.

Stewart says even one day can pose a problem.

"One bad air day could be one bad air day too many for people with chronic lung disease, young children, elderly and people with cardiovascular disease, as well as people living in poverty" he says. "Persons of color were at higher risk."

The report found Maine's most populous counties had mostly low levels of small particle pollution. Androscoggin County scored a top grade for ozone pollution. Cumberland, Knox, Hancock and Washington counties did worse. But even Cumberland and Knox counties had no days triggering the government warning "unhealthy," which applies to everyone, and Hancock County averaged about one over the three-year period.

The Lung Association report provided no ratings for six of Maine's counties, where no monitoring of ozone pollution was done.

Pollution levels likely dropped last year as the pandemic reduced activity, particularly travel. And, as Stewart cautions, "even one good year isn't a guarantee for the future," and says the Lung Association will continue to push for changes that lower pollution output.