In a recent air quality report card released by the American Lung Association, Dane County received an “F” for the number of days during which particle pollution exceeded federal standards.

The assessment also gave the county a “C” for the number of high ozone level days.

Dona Wininsky, director of the Wisconsin American Lung Association, said the ALA based the grades on how often and to what extent the county exceeded the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s threshold for ozone and particle pollution.

From 2007-2009, the county experienced 12 “Orange” days, which are unhealthy for sensitive groups, according to the EPA’s Air Quality Index.

Wininsky said small children, the elderly and those with heart or respiratory diseases — such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — are most susceptible to poor air quality.

For those in the vulnerable category, Wininsky said, the American Lung Association recommends they pay attention to media alerts when the DNR issues air quality advisories and limit outdoor activity.

In order to help the 63,000 people suffering from asthma in Dane County — and prevent that number from rising — Lisa MacKinnon, coordinator of the Dane County Clean Air Coalition, said it is imperative the county takes measures toward improving air quality.

The county did, however, receive a passing grade for annual particle pollution levels.

Bart Sponseller, chief of the Department of Natural Resources Air Management Monitoring Section, said the report would not have any regulatory implications because the county still meets the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

MacKinnon said the grades are not surprising, but reflect recent trends.

If trends in the county’s population growth, transportation practices and energy consumption continue, MacKinnon said, ozone and particle pollution levels will only increase.

The primary contributors to high ozone levels are volatile organic compounds, which are emitted from tailpipes, coal-burning power plants and large industrial facilities, Wininsky said.

Although the county saw slight improvements in several categories in 2009 due to efforts by the city and industry to reduce coal burning and promote non-single vehicle transportation practices, MacKinnon said there is more work to do.

She added an important step toward improving air quality is voluntary emissions reduction by residents, specifically through changing transportation practices.

“The big issue in Dane County is not just energy … but transportation,” MacKinnon said. “As individuals and employees traveling to work everyday, we really need to take a look at how we get from point A to point B.”

Likewise, Wininsky said, though residents cannot control coal-burning power plants or large industry, they can alter their driving habits. He recommended drivers monitor their driving in the summer, particularly on high ozone days.

Another major contributor to particle pollution is outdoor burning, a practice Dane County residents should reconsider, Wininsky added.

“We encourage people to rethink some of those tried and true traditions and whether it’s worthwhile investing in an outdoor wood boiler when they are contributing to the particle pollution problem,” Wininsky said.