Augusta's air is getting better when it comes to pollution, the American Lung Association said.
In fact, it is the "best recorded" for one type of pollution that last year landed the metro Augusta area onto a worst polluted list, one official said.
Across the country, air quality was improved, even in some of the worst areas, said Lung Association President and CEO Charles D. Connor.
"We're very pleased to report great progress," he said, attributing it to strong enforcement of the Clean Air Act.
In the group's State of the Air report, looking at 2007-09, Augusta dropped from 23rd worst for long-term particle pollution to tied for 30th, taking it off one of the group's "25 U.S. Cities Most Polluted" lists.
"It's lower year-round levels, so that is real improvement," said Janice Nolen, the group's assistant vice president for national policy and advocacy. "In fact, the 2007-09 weighted average is the best recorded for Augusta. (There is a) real cleanup there."
The decrease in particle pollution is a trend playing out in many areas, she said.
"We've seen so much improvement in year-round particle levels across the country that there is actual improvement in Augusta, largely because some of those coal-fired power plants are putting in the equipment and using cleaner coal, putting in equipment that is helping to reduce the pollution," Nolen said.
Some of the improvement might be because some local industry switched from coal-fired to gas-fired power, but sometimes the source and the solution is not local, said Paul DeCamp, a planning director for Augusta and a member of the CSRA Clean Air Alliance. One air quality study found pollution drifting in from as far away as the Southwest, he said.
Some air quality improvement might be the result of better use of diesel, which is a major contributor to particle pollution, Nolen said.
"We're getting cleaner diesel fuels, cleaner diesel equipment as the buses and trucks transition to the cleaner ones," she said. "You're seeing the kinds of things that make permanent change."
Higher gasoline prices also might be causing people to be a little smarter about how much they drive, which could help cut down on pollution, said June Deen, the state director for the Lung Association.
"We're all changing our behaviors and it is really making a difference," she said. "It's probably not one thing. It's a lot of things."
Richmond County also improved slightly on its ozone grade, from F to D, although Aiken still got an F for having 12 ozone alert days.
Still, progress is progress, Deen said.
"I'm pleasantly surprised," she said.