Nashville at top of not-so-fresh air rankings

Thursday, July 5, 2001 at 1:00am

Nashville ranked among the 10 worst cities for air quality in the nation for 1999; 45 days that year our city's Air Quality Index reached unhealthy levels. Tennessee in 1999 recorded the third-highest number of smog days in America.

These facts took me aback. Many places have more vehicle emission pollution than Nashville and Tennessee. What sets us apart?

The salient factor in explaining our ranking in the air pollution standings is the coal-fired power plants from which TVA generates 60 percent of its electricity. They produce much of the three air-quality problems: ozone (smog), particulate matter, and toxic pollutants.

Ozone lowers breathing capacity. Children, who inhale 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than adults, are especially vulnerable to ozone. It attacks adults too. A study of cyclists showed a positive correlation between post-exercise shortness of breath and ozone concentrations, even though the average ozone level during the study was below the federal National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS).

Davidson County exceeds this federal ozone standard, making it an EPA ozone non-attainment area. For the period 1997-99, Nashville was the 16th most ozone-polluted city in America, according to the American Lung Association's

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