Environment Florida Research & Policy Center
Tallahassee and Tampa, Florida – Today Environment Florida released a new report showing that Pensacola, Orlando, and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater rank as the top three smoggiest metropolitan area in the State.
Smog is a harmful air pollutant that leads to asthma attacks and exacerbates respiratory illnesses, especially among children and the elderly. The new report, Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011 ranks cities in Florida and across the country for the number of days when the air was unhealthy to breathe due to smog pollution last year and this summer.
As detailed in the report, residents in these metropolitan areas were exposed to air quality that made it dangerous to breathe on at least two to three days last year. New data also shows that the problem is even worse than the public thought. The research shows that on up to eight additional days last year, residents in these areas were exposed to smog levels that a national scientific panel has found to be dangerous to breathe, but because of outdated federal air quality rules, those at risk were never alerted to unhealthy air levels.
“In the case of smog, what you cannot see can still hurt you,” said Aliki Moncrief. Smog is one of the most harmful air pollutants, and is also one of the most pervasive. Smog is formed when pollution from cars, power plants, and industrial facilities reacts with other pollutants in the presence of sunlight. Smog is of particular concern in the summer months when warmer temperatures lead to the build-up of higher concentrations of smog pollution.
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 EPA’s own board of independent scientists agree is not adequately protective of public health. The Obama administration considered updating the standard this year to protect public health, but the president decided earlier this month to abandon this effort until 2013. Environment Florida and prominent public health groups expressed deep disappointment with his decision.
Environment Florida called on the president to protect the health of Florida’s children and seniors, and to establish an updated standard for smog pollution that is based on the science. A strong standard could save up to 12,000 lives and prevent up to 58,000 asthma attacks each year. At the same time, polluters and their allies in the House of Representatives are threatening to make the problem even worse by pushing a bill this week—the TRAIN Act (H.R. 2401)—to roll back existing smog pollution standards for power plants.
“We must make every day a safe day to breathe,” said Paul Rolfe. “President Obama and Florida’s members of Congress should stand up for Floridians’ health and oppose any attacks to the Clean Air Act, including voting against a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives this week that would roll back existing clean air protections for smog and other deadly pollutants.”