LOS ANGELES — The City of Angels can continue being the butt of smog jokes now that it has once again topped the American Lung Association's bad air list of most polluted cities in America.
The association found that the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside metropolitan area had the worst air based on 2003 through 2005 figures.
The Pittsburgh area was ranked as the nation's second most polluted metropolitan area followed by Bakersfield, Calif., Birmingham, Ala., Detroit and Cleveland. Visalia, Calif., Cincinnati, Indianapolis and St. Louis rounded out the top 10.
The news wasn't all bad for Los Angeles. Despite the dubious distinction, the number of days residents breathed the nation's worst ozone levels was fewer than in previous years.
"Nobody is surprised that LA has an air pollution problem," said Janice Nolen, the association's assistant vice president for national policy and advocacy. "The problems there are one of the reasons we have the Clean Air Act. But it is important for folks to know that there has been some improvement."
The lung association checked for three kinds of pollution: ozone and two kinds of soot -- short-term and year-round exposure -- and found that 136 million people lived in U.S. counties with unhealthy levels of at least one of the three.
More soot in the East
In its annual State of the Air report, the group noted that the United States is less smoggy than it used to be, but dangerous soot particles are rising in the densely populated eastern part of the country.
It applauded reductions in smog since its peak in 2002, and blamed the rise in soot — also called particle pollution — on coal-fired power plants in the East.
“Particle pollution is lethal, it can kill you,” Nolen said. Fine soot particles can get trapped deep in the lungs and can lead to heart attack, stroke, lung cancer and asthma attacks, Nolen said.
Those especially vulnerable to polluted air are children, senior citizens, people who work or exercise outdoors and people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Major sources of soot also include emissions from diesel vehicles including school buses, barges, trucks, tugboats and construction equipment, she said.
Even as the national level of ozone, a key component of smog, declined, 99 million people in the United States live in counties with failing grades for ozone, according to the report.
“We’re calling on EPA to set new standards for ozone at levels that would protect public health as the Clean Air Act requires,” said Terri Weaver, the lung association’s chair.
L.A. tops all 3 categories
Los Angeles was ranked as the most polluted U.S. city for all three categories.
The report follows an Environmental Protection Agency announcement Monday that preliminary data from 2006 shows that levels of six pollutants, including ozone and particulate matter, have declined 54 percent since 1970, when the Clean Air Act became law.
The ALA listed these urban areas as the worst across the United States:
1: Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
2: Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa.
3: Bakersfield, Calif.
4: Birmingham-Hoover-Cullman, Ala.
5: Detroit-Warren-Flint, Mich.
6: Cleveland-Akron-Elyria, Ohio
7: Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
8: Cincinnati-Middletown-Wilmington, Ohio, Ky., Ind.
9: Indianapolis-Anderson-Columbus, Ind.
10: St. Louis-St. Charles-Farmington, Mo., Ill.
11: Chicago-Naperville-Michigan City, Ill., Ind., Wis. (tie)
11: Lancaster, Pa.
13: Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Gainesville, Ga., Ala.
14: York-Hanover-Gettysburg, Pa.
15: Fresno-Madera, Calif. (tie)
15: Weirton-Steubenville, W.Va., Ohio
17: Hanford-Corcoran, Calif. (tie)
17: New York-Newark-Bridgeport, N.Y., N.J., Conn.
19: Canton-Massillon, Ohio
20: Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia, D.C., Md., Va. (tie)
20: Charleston, W.Va.
22: Louisville-Jefferson County-Elizabethtown-Scottsburg, Ky., Ind.
23: Huntington-Ashland, W.Va., Ky., Ohio
24: Philadelphia-Camden-Vineland, Pa., N.J., Del., Md. (tie)
24: Hagerstown-Martinsburg, Md., W.Va.
24: Rome, Ga.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.