Ohioans health at risk with unprecedented dirty air days in 2015

Media Contacts
Sam Gerard

Environment Ohio

Air pollution remains a major threat to our health, according to a new report from Environment Ohio Research & Policy Center, Our Health at Risk: Why Are Millions of Americans Still Breathing Unhealthy Air? In 2015, people here in Columbus experienced 103 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 Gerard.

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 taking an axe to 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.

“Reducing harmful air pollution leads to happier, healthier communities and families,” said State Representative David Leland (D-Columbus). “This report is yet more evidence that Ohio should not eliminate the renewable energy standards that create good-paying jobs and make for a cleaner environment.”

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:

  • Our data shows that about 20 cities have been affected by unhealthy air, with 6 cities and city areas having over 100 bad air days each in 2015, including places like Cincinnati, Youngstown, Cleveland, Columbus, Canton, Akron, and Dayton.

  • People in Columbus experienced 61 days with elevated smog pollution and 103 days with air at at least moderate risk in 2015.

  • Based on preliminary data, 2016 was even worse. Wilmington, Ohio had 26 additional unhealthy smog pollution days compared to 2015, up to 58 unhealthy days compared to 32 days.

Many Ohioans 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. For example, people who live near highly traveled roads are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, and at greater risk of death from stroke, lung disease and heart disease.

“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. “Elevated levels of air pollution – even levels the federal government says are safe for most people – hurt our health.”

“And it’s not just soot and smog,” said Gerard. “We also have to worry about global warming pollution. Warming is extending the smog season across more of the year, and driving up smog levels on hot days. Along with drought, warming is also making wildfires more frequent and intense – causing additional pollution that can travel hundreds of miles.”

Rep. Kent Smith (D-Euclid) believes that actions around clean air are very important to Ohioans:

“With millions of Americans still breathing unhealthy, polluted air, it is clear that eliminating the state’s renewable energy standards is short-sighted and harmful to both present-day Ohioans and our future generations,” said Smith. “In order to build on the gains made under Clean Air Act, Ohio should remain committed to renewable energy standards that spur economic growth and can improve the health of Ohio families.”

Speakers urged Ohio’s elected leaders to stand up to attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act, to maintain the strength of the nation’s Clean Car Standards, and to accelerate our transition to clean energy.

“To protect our health, we must keep cutting soot, smog and carbon pollution,” said Matt Stephens-Rich, the programs manager for Clean Fuels Ohio. “We must accelerate our progress, not hit the brakes.”

“In the face of reckless and dangerous actions from the Trump Administration on clean air, Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman must stand up for our health,” said Gerard. “We urge our senators to defend clean air safeguards and clean cars standards so that dirty air days can become a thing of the past.”