New Report: St. Louis Named 7th Smoggiest Large Metro Area in the Country

Environment Missouri

St. Louis, MO – Today Environment Missouri released a new report showing that the St. Louis area ranks as the 7th 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, residents in the St. Louis area were exposed to air quality that made it dangerous to breathe on 23 days in 2010. Also, this summer, residents in the St. Louis area have already been alerted to unhealthy air on 23 days, two of which were “red‐alert” days, when the air quality was so poor that anyone could experience adverse health effects. 

“Missourians deserve clean air.  But on far too many days, people in the St. Louis area are exposed to dangerous smog pollution,” said Ted Mathys, State Advocate with Environment Missouri. “For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.”

The new report ranks cities in Missouri 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 18 additional days last year, residents in the St. Louis area were exposed to smog levels that a national scientific panel has found to be dangerous to breathe, but because of outdated federal air quality rules, those at risk were never alerted to unhealthy air levels. 

Dr. Gary Albers, a pediatric pulmonologist with SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, joined Environment Missouri in releasing today’s report at SSM Cardinal Glennon in St. Louis.  

Smog is one of the most harmful air pollutants, and is also one of the most pervasive. Smog 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 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. More than 366,000 people in Missouri suffer from asthma, including 274,000 children. 

“Asthma is the leading cause of school‐aged children missing class because of a chronic illness,” said Dr. Gary Albers, a pediatric pulmonologist at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. “An effective treatment plan and medication can alleviate the symptoms of asthma, but many factors, such as air quality, are out of the control of our asthma patients. Clean air free of irritants is crucial to keeping children and adults with asthma safe and healthy.”

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 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.  Environment Missouri and prominent public health groups expressed deep disappointment with his decision.  

“For too long, smog pollution has left our children gasping for breath,” said Mathys. “Unfortunately, rather than acting decisively to protect our kids from dangerous air pollution, President Obama chose to kick the can down the road.  Missouri’s kids, senior citizens and those suffering from respiratory problems will suffer as a consequence and certainly deserve better.”

Environment Missouri called on the president to protect the health of Missouri’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.

“This significant report shows that despite great strides in air quality in recent years, the St. Louis area still struggles with smog,” said Congressman Wm. Lacy Clay (D) Missouri. “It also underscores the importance of defending the Clean Air Act against rollbacks, in order to protect Missourians, and all Americans, from the serious health threats of air pollution in our cities.”

“We must make every day a safe day to breathe,” said Mathys. “President Obama and Missouri’s members of Congress should stand up for Missourians’ 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 dangerous pollutants.”

Click here to access the full report