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Report: Regional air quality receives 'A' grade

Of the eight counties in the state monitored for air quality, the American Lung Association gave three counties in the region an 'A,' according to a report released Wednesday.

Dunn, Billings and McKenzie counties were given the highest ranking possible in 'State of the Air 2012,' which area officials say is not surprising.

"I think we knew that all along," said Allen Thompson, Billings County commissioner.

The report studied data collected from 2008 to 2010.

"This is really before the Oil Patch started to pop," said Bob Moffitt, spokesperson for American Lung Association in North Dakota. "So I think what will be interesting to see in the days to come is will we start to see these grades become worse for western North Dakota?"

However, Dunn County Commissioner Daryl Dukart is confident the air in Dunn County remains healthy.

"I think we're all self-conscious enough with air quality, whether it be a resident or energy development people, everybody is concerned about it and we'd like to stay as close to that standard as we can," he said.

Thompson also believes air in Billings County remains clean.

"There's been a lot of controversy in the power plants and the alleged brown cloud that floats around, but with northwest winds, our power plants aren't having any effect out here that I can see," he said.

Moffitt said the wind does play a part in keeping the lungs of residents healthy.

"With the prevailing winds and the cooler temperature, that tends to inhibit the development of ground-level ozone, even when all the components are there," he said. "If there's shifts in weather patterns, we can suddenly have air pollution problems in areas where we never had them before."

All three counties were monitored for ground-level ozone, according to the report.

"It's really like a soup of different things that have to come together with the right temperature and the right amount of sunlight and it chemically converts into ground-level ozone," he said.

Inhaling ozone is "like getting a sunburn on the lungs," Moffitt said.

Billings County was also monitored for particle pollution, which is also low, according to the report.

"It's the stuff that comes out of tailpipes," Moffitt said "It's the stuff that comes out of chimneys and smokestacks. It's fine particles that are suspended in the air that can travel for miles."

While A's used as the standard grade for counties monitored across the state, Moffitt said that is changing.

"Where North Dakota has traditionally gotten straight A's across the board, now Burleigh and Cass counties have both come up with B grades for 24-hour pollution," Moffitt said.

However, Bismarck is ranked No. 4 for cleanest metropolitan areas in the country for ozone, according to the report.