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Breathing Easier? Satellites Show The Air Down Here On Earth Is Cleaner Than It Used To Be

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Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It’s not just space NASA focuses on. A fleet of satellites also studies the Earth.

Alex DeMetrick reports that vantage point is showing that most of us are breathing cleaner air.

There’s no air up in space, but looking down, NASA has been tracking air pollution.

“Over the past 10 to 15 years, air quality over the continental U.S., including Baltimore, has improved dramatically,” said Dr. Russ Dickerson, NASA Air Quality Sciences.

NASA’s Air Quality Applied Sciences Team has mapped it out.

The bad air most of us call smog has shrunk in the Northeast corridor. In large measure, that’s due to pollution blowing in from the Ohio Valley easing.

The specific pollutant the satellites are measuring globally is nitrogen dioxide.

“It’s a terribly important pollutant. It’s the most important pollutant for making this ozone, this pollution ozone, the bad ozone down here where we live,” said Dickerson.

More smokestacks are scrubbing out nitrogen dioxide, and modern cars are producing only a fraction of what used to come out of tailpipes.

Even with the improvements, 30,000 Americans still die each year from the health effects of bad air.

“You’re still, on some days, not safe. We had a couple of episodes this year already. So there’s room for improvement,” said Dickerson.

Doctors have been seeing the effects of this kind of air for years.

“Absolutely…the Code Orange, the Code Red days, people complaining of sinus headache, congestion, nose and eyes that are burning. And the asthmatics have had to increase their medicines,” said Dr. John Bacon, allergist/immunologist with GBMC.

But while the detectors on the ground are still sniffing out plenty of ground level ozone, from space at least, reductions in nitrogen dioxide are giving us a little more breathing room.

Tailpipe emissions have seen the greatest improvements, with most cars producing just five percent of the pollution cars used to produce in the 1960s.

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