New Report: Richmond Area Among Most Polluted in Nation, State

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Environment Virginia

Smog, also known as ozone, is a harmful air pollutant that leads to asthma attacks and exacerbates respiratory illnesses, especially among children and the elderly. Environment Virginia’s report showed that smog pollution is a pervasive problem across the Commonwealth.  The Richmond area ranked second only to the Washington, DC metro area, where 33 days were considered unhealthy to breathe. The report found that there were 25 days in 2010 when at least part of Virginia experienced smog levels exceeding the national health standard.  Even relatively bucolic Charlottesville experienced 3 days of unhealthy air. Thus, more than 2 million Virginians were exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution last year.

“Virginians deserve clean air.  But on far too many days, people in Richmond and across the Commonwealth are exposed to dangerous smog pollution,” said Caroline Kory, Environment Virginia State Associate.  “For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.”

The report also shows that on 15 additional days last year, residents in the Richmond metropolitan area were exposed to smog levels that a national scientific panel has found to be dangerous to breathe, but because of outdated federal air quality rules, those at risk were never alerted to unhealthy air levels.

Delegate Jennifer McClellan of the Virginia House of Delegates and Glen Besa, Director of the Virginia Sierra Club joined Environment Virginia in releasing today’s report at the State Capitol.

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.

“Smog pollution puts the lives of Virginians on the line,” said Stuart Tousman, Chair of the Virginia Asthma Coalition. It is time we put our children first, protect our public health and enact strong rules to reduce smog pollution.”

On days with elevated levels of smog pollution, children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illness suffer the most. 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.

“EPA rules that clean up our air and water, not only protect our health, they actually create jobs and save employers money,” said Glen Besa, Virginia Director with the Sierra Club. Healthy air benefits employers with few work days lost to employee sickness. If you have a son or daughter with asthma, you are sure to miss days taking your child to the doctor or staying with them when the can not attend school, and that impacts productivity and the bottom line.”

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 Virginia expressed deep disappointment with his decision. 

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

Polluters and their allies in the House of Representatives are threatening to make the problem even worse by pushing the TRAIN Act (H.R. 2401) this week, spearheaded by Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, to roll back existing smog pollution standards for power plants.

“We must make every day a safe day to breathe,” said Kory. “President Obama and Virginia’s members of Congress should stand up for Virginians’ health and oppose Rep. Cantor’s 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 deadly pollutants.”



Environment Virginia is a statewide, citizen based environmental organization working to protect clean air, clean water and open space.