Bristol, Tenn. - The air in the Tri-Cities has never been cleaner, according to the newest "State of the Air" report from the American Lung Association.
"The Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol metro area has the best grades they've ever had for ground level ozone smog and for fine particle pollution," Kevin Stewart, the Director of Environmental Health with the American Lung Association says.
Fine particles are all around us. Stewart says they're so small, 30 of them lined up next to each other make up the width of a piece of hair. The particles come from soot, salts, acids and metals and can penetrate deep into our lungs.
"It can lead to premature death, heart attacks, and asthma attacks," Deb Brown, the CEO and President of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic says.
The city of Bristol, Virginia continues to thrive in that category, receiving an "A" for the seventh year in a row.
"The only way you get an 'A' on our report is if you have zero bad air days," Stewart says. "Even one will get you off the 'A'."
Ozone is the other air pollutant the American Lung Association studies. It's found in our air naturally and helps protect us from the sun. Too much ozone, however, can cause serious health complications.
"It causes increased risk in cancers and also irritation in lungs," Dr. Giri Hoskere, a Pulmonologist with Wellmont Health System says.
Sullivan County made the biggest improvement in ozone quality, going from a "F" in last year's report to an "A" this time around.
"Very few places go from a "F" to an "A" in the span on one report," Stewart says.
We can only control part of the ozone problem. Extreme heat causes excess ozone, so mother nature controls the rest.
"Air pollution controls on things like vehicles and power plants have certainly reduced the amount of pre-cursory pollutants for ozone," Stewart says.
The American Lung Association wasn't able to get exact data for all the counties in our region because most of them don't meet the population requirements for the Environmental Protection Agency to set up monitors.
Let's take a look at how our the Tri-Cities compare to other metro areas in Tennessee and Virginia. In the Volunteer state, Shelby County received a "D", Hamilton County and Davidson County both received a "C" and Knox County received a "B".
In Virginia, Arlington County received a "F", Loudon County received a "D" and Fairfax County received a "C".