Portland, Maine—As the U.S. House prepares to consider legislation to roll back clean air rules, Environment Maine released a new report today showing that smog levels in Maine exceeded the national health standard in 2010 at urban, suburban, and rural sites in six different Maine counties. Smog is a harmful air pollutant that contributes to asthma attacks and exacerbates respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, especially among children and the elderly.
“Mainers deserve clean air. For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe,” said Environment Maine Director Emily Figdor.
The new report, Danger in the Air, examines government data on smog levels in 2010. The report found that smog levels exceeded the national health standard on eight different days in 2010 at sites in Cumberland, Hancock, Kennebec, Knox, Washington, and York Counties. On four different days, smog levels were unsafe at Acadia National Park, and smog levels even reached “red-alert” levels, when the air quality is so poor that all population groups are at risk, on one day in Portland. On one additional day in 2010, Mainers in four counties were exposed to smog levels that a national scientific panel has found to be dangerous to breathe, but because of outdated federal air quality rules, those at risk were never alerted to unhealthy air levels.
On Friday, the U.S. House is slated to consider the TRAIN Act (H.R. 2401), which would roll back existing smog pollution rules for power plants. This is a particular concern in Maine since air pollution does not respect state boundaries, and smog pollution from power plants and industrial facilities in neighboring states pollutes the air we breathe and puts our health at risk.
“We thank Representatives Pingree and Michaud for fighting for clean air. Their leadership is critical at a time when polluters and their allies in Congress continue to try to chip away at the Clean Air Act,” said Figdor.
Smog is one of the most harmful and pervasive air pollutants. Smog is formed when pollution from cars, power plants, and industrial facilities reacts with other pollutants in the presence of sunlight. Maine’s smog levels reached dangerous levels in 2010 from May through early September.
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 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. A strong, science-based standard could save up to 12,000 lives and prevent up to 58,000 asthma attacks each year. Environment Maine and prominent public health groups expressed deep disappointment with his decision.
“For too long, smog pollution has left our children gasping for breath,” concluded Figdor. “Unfortunately, rather than acting decisively to protect our kids from dangerous air pollution, President Obama chose to kick the can down the road. Maine’s kids, senior citizens and those suffering from respiratory problems will suffer as a consequence and certainly deserve better.”
Environment Maine is a citizen-based environmental advocacy organization working to preserve Maine’s open spaces, protect clean air and water, and steer the state toward a clean energy future.