New Report: Rhode Island still has days too smoggy to be outside

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Channing Jones

Environment Rhode Island

Providence, RI – A report released today by the Environment Rhode Island Research and Policy Center finds that there were multiple days last year that smog levels in both the Providence and South County areas exceeded the health standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Rhode Islanders deserve clean air,” said Channing Jones, Field Associate for Environment Rhode Island Research and Policy Center. “It is unacceptable that there are days each year that our children shouldn’t play outside because the air is unsafe to breathe.”

“The physical impact of high smog levels is well established,” Representative Jim Langevin, a member of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, “and the resulting health and economic costs are enormous.”

The new report, entitled Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011, ranks cities and states across the country by the number of days with unsafe smog levels. The positive news for Rhode Island is that, after Vermont, Rhode Island saw the least unsafe days last year of states in the Northeast region. “I am proud,” said Langevin, “that Rhode Island, with our great tradition of maintaining a healthy environment, has proven to be a leader in keeping our air safe.”

There were still, however, a total of six days in 2010 between the Providence and New London-Norwich metropolitan areas that concentrations of ground-level ozone––the main component of smog––exceeded EPA’s 75 parts per billion standard. “We must now build off the progress we’ve made,” said Jones, “to make sure that every day is safe to be outside in Rhode Island.”

Smog is a harmful air pollutant that leads to asthma attacks and exacerbates respiratory illness. It forms 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 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 tissue, decreases the ability to breathe normally, exacerbates chronic diseases like asthma, and can even cause premature death.

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 EPA standard this year to protect public health, but the president decided earlier this month to abandon this effort until 2013. Environment Rhode Island Research and Policy Center and prominent public health groups expressed deep disappointment with his decision, calling on the president to protect the health of Rhode Island’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.

“We must make every day a safe day to breathe,” said Jones. “We applaud Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation for defending the cleanliness of our air, and call on President Obama and the rest of Congress to protect our health and oppose attacks to the Clear Air Act.”