Trouble in the Air: Northern Virginia residents’ health at risk with 84 dirty air days in 2016

Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center

Despite improvement in recent years thanks to clean air policies, air pollution remains a threat to public health, according to a new report by Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center. In 2016, over 6 million  people in the Washington D.C.-Northern Virginia area experienced 84 days of degraded air quality, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts.

“All Virginians should be able to breathe clean air. Even one day with polluted air is too many,” said Corinne Leard, Field Organizer with Environment State Research & Policy Center. “To make dirty air days a thing of the past, we need to strengthen existing air quality protections and reduce global warming pollution.”

For the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathe Polluted Air, Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG Education Fund reviewed Environmental Protection Agency records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and particulate pollution – harmful pollutants that come from burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline and natural gas.

“The Washington Metropolitan Region, including Northern Virginia, has made significant progress on air quality. This has resulted from a constructive partnership of federal, state and local governments, nonprofits and the private sector. However, we need more progress, as the report indicates. A great concern is that the federal government is apparently retrenching. So, not only could we fail to make progress but we could actually backslide and have dirtier rather than cleaner air.” said David Snyder, a member of the City of Falls Church Council and past chair of the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee.

“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. “Even low levels of smog and particulate pollution are bad for health and can increase deaths.”

These troubling findings come as the Trump administration prepares to weaken the federal clean car standards, the nation’s best climate change mitigation program, which is aimed at cutting tailpipe emissions and global warming pollution. The report’s authors call on the federal government to strengthen, not weaken, the clean car standards and continue to allow states to adopt stronger vehicle pollution standards. The authors also call on officials to strengthen Clean Air Act regulations.

“To protect our health, we must keep cutting smog, particulate pollution and global warming,” said Leard. “We must accelerate our progress, not hit the brakes on effective programs like the federal clean car standards.”