Providence’s health at risk with 112 dirty air days in 2015

Environment Rhode Island Research and Policy Center

For Additional Information: Morgan Folger, [email protected], 203-343-1736. Please email Morgan to request a recording of the tele-press conference if you were unable to join.

Providence, RI – Air pollution remains a major threat to our health, according to a new report from Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center, Our Health at Risk: Why Are Millions of Americans Still Breathing Unhealthy Air? In 2015, people here in Providence experienced 112 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 Morgan Folger, Climate Campaign Organizer with Environment Rhode Island. “Burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and gas threatens our health. It’s time to shift to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.”

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.

“Going backwards on clean air is reckless and wrong,” said Nitin S. Damle MD MS MACP, immediate past President of the American College of Physicians. “We should be doing more to clean up pollution and develop clean energy, not less. To protect our health we need to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.”

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:

  • People in the Providence metropolitan area experienced 48 days with elevated smog pollution and 112 days with elevated soot pollution in 2015.

  • Providence ranked 1st in the state for worst smog pollution in 2015, and 53rd in the nation for soot.

  • Across New England, Providence had more bad air days in 2015 than Boston, MA or New Haven, CT.

Many Rhode Islanders 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 Folger. “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.”

Speakers urged Rhode Island’s federal representatives 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.

“In the face of reckless and dangerous actions from the Trump Administration on clean air, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed must stand up for our health,” said Folger.

And at the state level, Governor Raimondo has an opportunity to help clean the air and protect our health by doubling the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the coming months.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is the best regional clean air and climate protection program in the country. This program limits dangerous pollution from power plants in Rhode Island and across the region – helping to slow the warming of our planet. It also fuels investment in clean energy by making polluters pay to pollute. It has helped to clean our air, preventing 100 asthma attacks over its first six years in operation.

“To protect our health, we must keep cutting soot, smog and carbon pollution,” said Folger. “Doubling the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative will accelerate our transition to renewable energy and help clean our air.”

“Governor Raimondo should work with other governors in the region to double the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative as soon as possible,” concluded Damle. “The more we cut pollution, the sooner dirty air days can become a thing of the past.”


Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization. We are dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit