Trouble in the Air: Boston’s health at risk with 32 dirty air days in 2016

Media Contacts
Ben Hellerstein

Former State Director, Environment Massachusetts

Environment Massachusetts

Boston – According to a new report by Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center, 4.8 million people in the Boston area experienced 32 days of degraded air quality in 2016, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts.

The report comes as state officials consider legislation that would power Massachusetts with 100 percent renewable electricity by 2047 and accelerate the adoption of clean transportation technologies, addressing two significant sources of air pollution.

“Everyone in Massachusetts should be able to breathe clean air. Even one day with polluted air is too many,” said Ben Hellerstein, State Director for Environment Massachusetts. “To make dirty air days a thing of the past, we need to strengthen existing air quality protections and reduce global warming pollution.”

For the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathe Polluted Air, Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and MASSPIRG Education Fund reviewed Environmental Protection Agency records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and particulate pollution – harmful pollutants that come from burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline and natural gas. 

“Climate change is not just a problem for generations to come – it’s one of the most pressing issues of our time, and it threatens the health and safety of our communities every day,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton. “We can only truly protect our right to clean air when we transition to a future that is powered by clean, local, and renewable energy, one in which we hold our biggest polluters accountable. I think An Act to promote a clean energy future is necessary for getting us there and I was proud to vote in support of this bill.”

“Investing in energy efficiency and clean energy can have long-term health benefits related to climate change, but also near-term health benefits related to improved air quality,” said Jon Levy, Professor of Environmental Health at Boston University School of Public Health. “By accelerating the adoption of clean energy, we can reduce the risk of asthma, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems associated with pollution from fossil fuels.”

“There’s no safe level of exposure to smog and particulate pollution,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “Even low levels of smog and particulate pollution are bad for health and can increase deaths.” 

These troubling findings come at a time when the Trump administration prepares to weaken the federal clean car standards, which cut pollution that threatens public health and adds to global warming. And just this week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the agency will review the federal ozone standard — a standard he sued to stop when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general.

Officials in Massachusetts and other states recently decided to strengthen the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a program that caps emissions from power plants and provides funding for clean energy and energy efficiency. Under RGGI, carbon pollution from power plants will be cut to less than one third of 2005 levels by 2030.

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Senate passed a clean energy bill that would transition Massachusetts to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2047, eliminate the caps on solar net metering, and increase the adoption of electric vehicles. The House has not yet taken up the measure, with the end of the legislative session looming on July 31.

Other metropolitan areas in Massachusetts also experienced days with elevated levels of air pollution in 2016:

  • Barnstable: 22 days
  • Greenfield: 32 days
  • Pittsfield: 45 days
  • Providence (including parts of Southeastern Massachusetts): 49 days
  • Springfield: 52 days
  • Vineyard Haven: 13 days
  • Worcester: 47 days

“To protect our health, we must keep cutting smog, particulate pollution and global warming emissions,” said Hellerstein. “Massachusetts can lead the way with a statewide commitment to 100 percent renewable energy.”

Click here to download Trouble in the Air.