As the U.S. House of Representatives considers a bill (H.R. 2401) this week that would roll back Clean Air Act protections for smog, Environment America released a new report, Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011.
According to the report, ten metropolitan areas – Houston, TX, the Washington, DC area, Baltimore, MD, Philadelphia, PA- NJ, Riverside-San Bernardino, CA, Visalia-Tulare-Porterville, CA, Bakersfield, CA, Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA, Fresno, CA, , and Atlanta, GA – rank worst in the country for smog pollution based on the number of unhealthy air days they experience.
“Americans deserve clean air. But on far too many days, people all across the country are exposed to dangerous smog pollution,” said Lauren Randall, Clean Air Associate for Environment America. “For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.”
Smog is one of the most harmful air pollutants and also one of the most pervasive. According to the American Lung Association, nearly half of all Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of smog pollution.
“This report shows that recent attacks on the Clean Air Act are also attacks on New Jersey,” said Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). “We cannot afford policies that allow polluters off the hook and put the public health of our state in jeopardy. It is high time all our leaders realize that pollution does not create jobs -- it creates sick people, higher medical bills, lost days of work, and is a drag on our economy.”
Because of America’s outdated air quality rules, there were even more unhealthy air days across the country than reported to the public. The report finds that in the Washington, DC area for example, there were 17 additional unhealthy air days in 2010 when those at risk were never alerted.
Environment America called on the President to protect the health of America’s children and seniors, and to establish an updated standard for smog pollution that is based on science. A strong standard could save up to 12,000 lives and prevent up to 58,000 asthma attacks each year, but President Obama recently announced he would delay updating the standard until 2013.
“For too long, smog pollution has left our children gasping for breath,” said Randall. “Unfortunately, rather than acting decisively to protect our children from dangerous air pollution, President Obama chose to kick the can down the road. Our children, senior citizens and those suffering from respiratory problems will suffer as a consequence and certainly deserve better.”
On days with elevated levels of smog pollution, children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illness suffer the most. Children who grow up in areas with high levels of smog may develop diminished lung capacity, putting them at greater risk of lung disease later in life. Additionally, children exposed to smog in the womb can experience lower birth weight and growth retardation. Even among healthy adults, repeated exposure to smog pollution over time permanently damages lung tissues, decreases the ability to breathe normally, exacerbates chronic diseases like asthma, and can even cause premature death.
Under the federal Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency is required to set a national standard for smog pollution according to the latest science on air quality and public health. However, the current standard was set at a level that is not adequately protective of public health, according to EPA’s own board of independent scientists.
Dr. Walter Tsou, former President of the American Public Health Association, and current President of the Philadelphia chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, joined Environment America in the release of their report. “As physicians, we are used to telling our patients to take their medicine or exercise. We are ethically unable to ask our patients not to breathe the air,” Tsou said. “Our government has a responsibility to set the rules to keep our air clean."
“We must make every day a safe day to breathe,” said Randall. “President Obama and Congress should stand up for Americans’ health and oppose any attacks to the Clean Air Act including the TRAIN Act (H.R. 2401) expected to reach the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives this week that would roll back existing clean air protections for smog-forming pollution and other deadly pollutants.”