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Lung association ranks most polluted cities

Most Smog

1. Los Angeles, California

2. Visalia-Porterville, California

3. Bakersfield, California

4. Fresno, California

5. Houston, Texas

6. Merced, California

7. Sacramento, California

8. Hanford, California

9. Knoxville, Tennessee

10. Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas

Most Particle Pollution

1. Los Angeles, California

2. Visalia-Porterville, California

3. Bakersfield, California

4. Fresno, California

5. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

6. Detroit, Michigan

7. Atlanta, Georgia

8. Cleveland, Ohio

9. Hanford, California

10. Birmingham, Alabama; and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Environmental Issues

(CNN) -- Southern California tops the list of the nation's cities and counties most threatened by air pollution, according to the American Lung Association's annual report.

This year, for the first time, the report includes "particle pollution" as well as smog. Particle pollution refers to the microscopic soot-like particles produced by power plant emissions, diesel exhausts, wood burning, and other sources.

The association says more than one-quarter of Americans live in areas where particle pollution reaches unhealthy levels. Almost half live in areas with health-threatening levels of ozone pollution, or smog.

Those numbers mark a slight improvement over past years, according to the association's president, John Kirkwood.

"I think we can attribute that to cleaner cars and enforcement of the Clean Air Act, and improved control technology that has reduced hydrocarbons," Kirkwood said.

Of the metropolitan areas most polluted by particle pollution year-round, the top four are in California.

Los Angeles tops the list, followed by three areas in the San Joaquin Valley -- Visalia-Porterville, Bakersfield, and Fresno.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is fifth, followed by Detroit, Michigan; Atlanta, Georgia; Cleveland, Ohio; Hanford, California; and (tie) Birmingham, Alabama; and Cincinnati, Ohio.

The top metropolitan areas with the worst smog look quite similar. The same four California places occupy the top spots, followed by Houston, Texas.

No. 6 through No. 8 are all in California -- Merced, Sacramento and Hanford.

The other metropolitan areas are Knoxville, Tennessee, and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas.

The Lung Association also lists the cities with the cleanest air.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, received the best rating on particle pollution, followed by Honolulu, Hawaii; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Great Falls, Montana; and Farmington, New Mexico.

The least smoggy metropolitan area is Ames, Iowa, followed by Bellingham, Washington; Brownsville, Texas; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Duluth, Minnesota.

"Exposure to ozone is like getting a sunburn on your lungs," Kirkwood said. "It will increase asthma attacks, and if people have respiratory problems -- chronic lung disease -- it will be more difficult for them to breathe on days when the ozone levels are high.

"With regard to particulates, dust and soot in the air, that has been linked to an increase in lung disease and lung cancer."

He called the Clean Air Act "the cornerstone of improving air quality in this country" and said "it will continue to be effective as long as it's not amended in some way to weaken it."

A statement from the Lung Association said the Bush administration has taken steps to roll back the Clean Air Act. Kirkwood said more action is needed, not less.

"We need to continue to move forward with strategies that reduce emissions that create air pollution, whether they be from industrial sources, power plants, automobiles, whatever," he said.

"And do that in a way that we will eventually achieve these health-related air quality standards."

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