Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Today Wisconsin Environment released a new report showing that 3 metropolitan areas in Wisconsin – Kenosha, Sheboygan and Racine – are among the top ten smoggiest small metropolitan areas in the country. Smog is a harmful air pollutant that leads to asthma attacks and exacerbates respiratory illnesses, especially among children and the elderly. The new report, Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011, also found that there were 11 days in 2010 in Wisconsin when at least part of the state experienced smog levels exceeding the national health standard. Also, this summer, residents in the Milwaukee area were alerted to unhealthy air on 4 days.
“Wisconsinites deserve clean air. But on far too many days, people in the Milwaukee area are exposed to dangerous smog pollution,” said Scott Thompson. “For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.”
The new report ranks cities in Wisconsin and across the country for the number of days when the air was unhealthy to breathe due to smog pollution last year and this summer, and includes new data showing that the problem is even worse than the public thought. The research shows that on 5 additional days last year, residents in south eastern Wisconsin were exposed to smog levels that a national scientific panel has found to be dangerous to breathe, but because of outdated federal air quality rules, those at risk were never alerted to unhealthy air levels.
State Senator Chris Larson, and Assistant Professor Amy Kalkbrenner from the Universitty of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s Zilber School of Public Health joined Wisconsin Environment in releasing today’s report outside at the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee’s Eastside.
“My most important message for you today is this is a public problem requiring a public solution.” said Dr. Amy Kalkbrenner “There is little you can do to protect yourself and your children because outdoor air comes inside.”
Smog is one of the most harmful air pollutants, and is also one of the most pervasive. 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.
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 tissues, 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 standard this year to protect public health, but the president decided earlier this month to abandon this effort until 2013. Wisconsin Environment and prominent public health groups expressed deep disappointment with his decision.
“For too long, smog pollution has left our children gasping for breath,” said Thompson “Unfortunately, rather than acting decisively to protect our kids from dangerous air pollution, President Obama chose to kick the can down the road. Wisconsin’s kids, senior citizens and those suffering from respiratory problems will suffer as a consequence and certainly deserve better.”
Wisconsin Environment called on the president to protect the health of Wisconsin’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 —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 Thompson “President Obama and Wisconsin’s members of Congress should stand up for Wisconsinites health and oppose any attacks to the Clean Air Act.”
Wisconsin Environment is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy group that works for clean air, clean water and open spaces