Baltimore’s health at risk with 143 dirty air days in 2015

Media Contacts
Morgan Hayward

Former Director, Destination: Zero Carbon, Environment America

Environment Maryland Research and Policy Center

Baltimore, MD – Air pollution remains a major threat to our health, according to a new report from Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center, Our Health at Risk: Why Are Millions of Americans Still Breathing Unhealthy Air? In 2015, people here in Baltimore experienced 143 unhealthy air pollution days, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts.

“Even one day with unhealthy air is too many,” said Morgan Folger, Climate Campaign Organizer for Environment Maryland.

The report comes during National Public Health Week, a celebration of efforts to tackle the underlying causes of disease – like air pollution – and ensure that all people have a chance to live long and healthy lives.

Although our air is less polluted than it was 30 years ago, dirty air is still a major health problem. Despite that fact, President Trump is cutting important programs that could help clean up our air. In just the last month, the Trump Administration has:

  • Instructed the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, the largest step the United States has ever taken to cut dangerous global warming pollution;

  • Proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, a “get out of jail free card” for polluters;

  • Instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back federal clean cars standards that were supposed to prevent 6 billion metric tons of global warming pollution; and

  • Told the Department of Interior to rewrite air pollution regulations for oil and gas drilling.

These actions will have significant health impacts. Blocking the Clean Power Plan alone will slow progress in cleaning our air – leading to 3,600 additional premature deaths, 90,000 more asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 more missed work and school days by 2030.

“Children and pregnant women are more vulnerable to the health impacts of air pollution and climate change,” said Trisha Sheehan, Regional Field Manager for Mom’s Clean Air Force and mother of three. “Clean air is important for children and babies developing brains, respiratory, and immune systems. Asking the industrial sources of this pollution to clean up their act is simple common sense. Cleaning up the mess you make is the same lesson I teach my kids. My children – all our children – deserve the most protective pollution controls available today. As moms, we want our children to have a livable future.”

Our Health at Risk reviews EPA records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and soot – dangerous pollutants that come from burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Key findings include:

  • People in Baltimore experienced 89 days with elevated smog pollution and 143 days with elevated soot pollution in 2015.

  • The Baltimore/Columbia/Towson area ranked 50th in the Nation for worst smog pollution in 2015, and 33rd for soot.

  • Across Maryland, Garrett County and Kent County ranked in the top 20 worst counties with unhealthy levels of air pollution on at least 40 days during 2015.

Many Marylanders may be exposed to air pollution even more severe than described here because they live in local pollution “hotspots,” such as near freeways, airports and industrial facilities – facing greater health impacts.

“Identifying pollution hotspots and the disproportionate impacts to children and the elderly is a good first step but we need to do more than just take note.  It is imperative that we look at the overarching patterns in transportation and planned development and infrastructure that underlie this exposure,” said Tamara Toles-O’Laughlin, Executive Director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network. “People who live near highways or highly traveled roads faced increased risk of developing lung cancer, and a greater risk of dying from stroke, lung or heart disease.  More than 11 million Americans live within 500 feet of a major highway. It’s time to clean up the renewable portfolio standard, and make a just transition to halt these trends. We must do better for them, we must do better for ourselves.” 

“In the face of reckless and dangerous actions from the Trump Administration on clean air, our Maryland Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen must stand up for our health,” said Folger.

And at the state level, Governor Hogan has an opportunity to help clean the air and protect our health by doubling the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the coming months.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is the best regional clean air and climate protection program in the country. This program limits dangerous pollution from power plants in Maryland and across the region – helping to slow the warming of our planet. It also fuels investment in clean energy by making polluters pay to pollute. It has helped to clean our air, saving 60 lives in Maryland over its first six years in operation.

“Governor Hogan should work with other governors in the region to double the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative as soon as possible,” concluded Folger. “The more we cut pollution, the sooner dirty air days can become a thing of the past.”


Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization. We are dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit