The Baltimore metro area ranks as the smoggiest metropolitan area on the East Coast in a report released today by Environment Maryland. Three other Maryland metropolitan areas, specifically the Washington, D.C., Hagerstown, MD and Wilmington-Newark, DE-MD metro areas, were not far behind in the report’s rankings, with the Washington, D.C. area ranking as the second smoggiest on the East Coast. Smog is a harmful air pollutant that leads to asthma attacks and exacerbates respiratory illnesses, especially among children and the elderly.
“Marylanders deserve clean air. But on far too many days, people in the Baltimore area and throughout the state are exposed to dangerous smog pollution” said Ewa Krason, Field Organizer with Environment Maryland. “For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.”
The new report, Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011, shows that residents in the Baltimore area were exposed to air quality that made it dangerous to breathe on 33 days last year, including 6 “red-alert” days when the air quality was so poor that anyone could experience adverse health effects. This summer, residents in the Baltimore metropolitan area have already been alerted to 23 unhealthy air days.
Additionally, the report shows that the problem is even worse than the public has been told. On 17 additional days last year, residents in the Baltimore area were exposed to smog levels that a national scientific panel has found to be dangerous to breathe, according to the report. But because of outdated federal air quality rules, those at risk were never alerted to unhealthy air levels.
The Maryland Healthy Air Act, passed in 2006, has limited pollution from power plants in Maryland, and the Cross State Air Pollution Rule finalized by the EPA earlier this summer will cut air pollution from power plants in neighboring states. However, those measures only deal with pollution from power plants, and neither uses a standard based on public health. As a result, citizens in Maryland are still exposed to unhealthy air, most of which comes from out of state . So more must be done to protect public health, including setting a national health-based standard for smog pollution.
“It is time for a national health-based smog standard, set according to the science, to protect the health of our children and families,” Krason continued.
Katie Huffling with University of Maryland School of Nursing and The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE), and Reverend Bernard Keels, who shared his wife’s story about life with asthma in Maryland, joined Environment Maryland in releasing today’s report outside of the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
“Many times my asthmatic patients would come in to my office wheezing or report increased use of their inhalers on poor air quality days, especially during the summer,” said Katie Huffling with University of Maryland School of Nursing and The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE). “The EPA is mandated to protect the health of Americans and we support an ozone standard that would protect the most vulnerable—pregnant women, babies, and children” she added.
On days with elevated levels of smog pollution, children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illness suffer the most. 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.
“Over the years, the constant irritations to my wife’s vocal chords from coughing and mucus have changed her voice” Reverend Bernard Keels mentioned as he spoke about his asthmatic wife Christine D. Keels. “She can no longer sing in the choir” he added.
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 scientists agrees is not adequately protective of public health.
“For too long, smog pollution has left our children gasping for breath,” said Krason. “Unfortunately, rather than acting decisively to protect our kids from dangerous air pollution, President Obama chose to kick the can down the road.”
Environment Maryland called on the President to protect the health of Maryland’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.
“President Obama and Maryland’s members of Congress should stand up for Marylander’s 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,” Krason concluded.