New Report: Detroit Named 23rd Smoggiest Large Metropolitan Area in the Country

Media Releases

Environment Michigan

DETROIT – U.S. Congressman Hansen Clarke joined Environment Michigan, the League of Women Voters of Michigan, and Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision to release a new report showing that the Detroit area ranks as the 23rd smoggiest large metropolitan area in the country.

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, shows that in total, Detroit-area residents were exposed to air quality that made it dangerous to breathe on 12 days last year. This summer, Detroit residents were alerted to unhealthy air on 10 days.

The report comes days after the U.S. House passed H.R.2401, an unprecedented legislative assault on clean air safeguards that indefinitely delays the cleanup of smog-forming pollution, as well as dangerous soot, mercury, and other toxic pollutants.

“It is outrageous for House Republican leaders to value corporate polluters’ interests over the health of the American people,” said Congressman Hansen Clarke, a longtime champion of public health. “Environment Michigan’s report shows that Detroit residents aren’t getting the clean air they deserve, and that’s largely because Congress won’t let the Environmental Protection Agency do its job.”

“Our report shows, on far too many days, Detroit-area residents are exposed to dangerous smog pollution. For the sake of our children, our state’s delegation must join Congressman Clarke to make every day a safe day to breathe,” added Environment Michigan’s Jessica Surma.

The report ranks cities in Michigan 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, and includes new data showing that the problem is even worse than the public thought.  The research shows that on six additional days last year, Detroit-area residents were exposed to smog levels that a national scientific panel has found to be dangerous to breathe. Yet, because of outdated federal air quality rules, those at risk were never alerted to unhealthy air levels.

Smog is one of the most harmful air pollutants – and also one of the most pervasive. It 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.

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 stunted growth.  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.

 “Smog puts the lives of Detroiters on the line, especially here in Southwest Detroit where there are above average asthma rates” said Simone Sagovac, Program Manager for Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision.  “It’s time to protect our health and set strong rules to reduce smog pollution.”

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA 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 agrees 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 Michigan and prominent public health groups expressed deep disappointment with his decision.

The House-passed attack on existing clean air protections, H.R. 2401, puts 139,500 American lives at risk by subjecting EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Rule and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule to indefinite delay. Having opposed this harmful bill and other brazen attacks on clean air and public health, Congressman Clarke took the Michigan League of Women Voters’ ‘Clean Air Promise,’ pledging to stand up for EPA and Michiganders’ health, at the event.

“We thank Congressman Clarke for working to make our air safe to breathe every day,” said Sue Smith, President of the League of Women Voters of Michigan. “We all should join him in defending Detroiters’ health and opposing any attacks to the Clean Air Act, including voting against any bill that rolls back existing clean air protections for smog and other deadly pollutants.”