More than half of all Americans breathe polluted air that can damage their health because the government doesn’t fully enforce clean air laws, according to the American Lung Association. Standards are in place to cut back pollution, but since they are not being enforced, nearly 400 counties in the United States have smog levels above the legal limits.

“It is clearly time to get serious about enforcing all of the provisions of the Clean Air Act so that we place Americans’ health above business and political interests,” says John Kirkwood, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association. Kirkwood says industry is fighting to roll back important provisions of the Clean Air Act, and the ozone standards that were set in 1997 are still not being enforced. “More protective ozone standards effectively have been on hold due to challenges by industry, which have kept states relying on weaker standards they have used since 1979,” he says.Ozone has been linked with poor air quality, smog, asthma and other respiratory conditions.

A coalition of business groups, led by the American Trucking Association, has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s 1997 pollution standards saying they?re arbitrary and have no scientific basis. But last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the argument, saying the EPA “must err on the side of caution” and set pollution standards at “whatever level it deems necessary and sufficient to protect the public health.”

The EPA estimates that enforcing the higher standards would prevent 15,000 premature deaths, 350,000 cases of asthma and 1 million cases of decreased lung function in children.

According to the Lung Association’s report, the 10 most polluted areas in the U.S. are Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange County in southern California; Bakersfield, Fresno, Visalia, Tulare, Sacramento and Porterville, California; Houston, Galveston and Brazoria, Texas; Atlanta; Merced, California; Knoxville, Tennessee; Charlotte, North Carolina, and Rockville, South Carolina. The cleanest big cities include Bellingham, Washington, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Lincoln, Nebraska.

“Somehow, industry believes it needs to continue to pollute,” Kirkwood says. “They have fought every step we have taken toward cleaner air for all Americans. Now is the time for EPA to act.”

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