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Rural Colorado County Is Latest to Take American Lung Association to Task on Air Quality Claims



By Karen Kerrigan

A rural Colorado county is the latest to question the validity of the American Lung Association’s (ALA) 2016 State of the Air report air quality rankings. The rebuke from Garfield County comes on the heels of similar concerns raised about ALA’s methodology from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) but is far from the first time ALA’s “findings” have faced public scrutiny from air regulators, elected officials and editorial pages among many other critics of their report.

In a letter to ALA, Garfield County Commission Chair John Martin and the county’s Air Quality Program Coordinator write that they “disagree” with ALA’s conclusion that the county is the “25th Most Ozone-Polluted City” in the U.S. The letter raises several concerns with ALA’s conclusions questioning their interpretation of the county’s air quality data and methodology. As the letter states:

“We ask that in future reports on air quality, the American Lung Association consider in greater detail their methods and the diverse factors that affect the data included in their assessments. We would value a partnership with the ALA on our shared goals; however, it makes collaboration more difficult with assertions such as those made in the 2016 report. Our agency welcomes a dialogue with the American Lung Association about our air quality monitoring efforts so they can better understand our program and others in our neighboring cities and counties. We would like our data and the information it presents to be portrayed in a way that accurately reflects air quality for our citizens.”

Garfield County’s letter comes after state regulators raised similar concerns with ALA’s latest report. Writing that they have “received a number of concerns from local agencies within Colorado, regarding the ozone numbers and ranking for different areas of the state,” CDPHE goes on to challenge several parts of ALA’s methodology. From CDPHE:

“We believe there are some deficiencies in the existing ALA methodology and would respectfully request that the ALA revisit the methodology for next year.”

This is not the first time ALA has run into problems in the Centennial State.

In 2015, CDPHE air quality officials in Colorado said the ALA’s State of the Air report was “both inaccurate and misrepresents air quality in Colorado.” The officials also complained “it makes our jobs harder when positive trends are being spun the exact opposite way.”

The state’s chief air regulator Will Allison took that criticism one step further in an interview published in a column that ran in the Denver Post:

“On the Front Range “we had a very good year with very low ozone levels,” he said, “but even that doesn’t seem to change the way the grades come out of the ALA system.” As for the Western Slope, some counties “received Cs or Ds when in fact they’re meeting all applicable health-based air quality standards.”

Their 2015 report was even taken to task by then Denver Post editorial page editor Vincent Carroll. In a column headlined “Playing Chicken Little on Denver’s Air Quality,” Carroll forced the ALA to retract their false claim that ozone levels in Colorado have increased since the 1970s and gave ALA officials the following admonishment: “[I]t’s one thing to say we have work to do and quite another to misrepresent long-term trends to strengthen your call for action … [I]t’s important to understand where we’ve come from and where we actually are, and not to fudge the data.”

And Colorado air officials are not alone. In fact, ALA’s previous reports have been challenged by air quality regulators in states across the country and have even been disavowed by Environmental Protection Agency officials.

That is likely why Garfield County Commission Chair John Martin did not mince words at the hearing to approve the letter when it came to ALA saying: “We need to put our foot down when it comes to misinformation.”

Indeed, we do. And with all of the various voices exposing the report as “misinformation” the less elected officials and the media will give activist organizations like ALA a free pass. That’s good news for public health and the environment and our economy.

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council). The Center for Regulatory Solutions is a project of the Council.