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Albuquerque area 16th-cleanest in air report

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Air quality in New Mexico turned in mixed results in the American Lung Association’s annual report, with the Albuquerque-Santa Fe-Las Vegas area ranked the 16th cleanest of U.S. metro areas and the Las Cruces-El Paso area tied for 23rd most polluted.

The report ranked Farmington the second-cleanest among the 220 U.S. metropolitan areas in annual particle pollution, the “State of the Air 2015” report said.

Particle pollution refers to dust and chemical particles, so small that they appear as a haze, that can cause long-term lung damage. Annual particle pollution refers to year-round particle levels.

In Bernalillo County, annual particle pollution increased slightly from 2008 to 2013, the most recent year examined in the report. But the county’s levels remained about half that the national average, it said.

Bernalillo County averaged three high-ozone days a year from 2011-2013, down from just over eight days a year in 2003-2005, the report said.

Ozone is a harmful gas formed when chemicals produced by burning fuels react with sunlight. Ozone can worsen the symptoms of asthma and other serious lung diseases.

Danny Nevarez, deputy director of Albuquerque’s environmental health department, said the report is good news at a time when drought conditions are worsening air quality in cities throughout the western U.S.

Drought causes an increase in ozone and particulate matter in the air, often from fine dust and wildfires, he said.

Measures adopted by the city in recent years include high-wind alerts that require employers to stop work for outdoor employees at times of high winds, and no-burn alerts that prohibit fires when air quality is poor, Nevarez said.

The city also has increased efforts to find sources of air pollution using automated air monitoring alerts, he said.

“Our enforcement group gets alerts from air monitoring stations, so if we see elevated levels we can dispatch out to that area to see if we can find a source,” he said.

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