Home Energy and Environment Washington D.C. Named 6th Smoggiest Metropolitan Area in the Country

Washington D.C. Named 6th Smoggiest Metropolitan Area in the Country

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Yesterday Environment Virginia released a new report showing that the Washington, D.C. area, including Northern Virginia, ranks as the 6th smoggiest metropolitan area 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 shows that in total, residents in the D.C. metro area were exposed to air quality that made it dangerous to breathe on 33 days last year. Residents of the D.C. metro area were exposed to 3 “red-alert” days, when the air quality was so poor that anyone could experience adverse health effects.  Also, this summer, residents in the D.C. metro area have already been alerted to unhealthy air on 28 days.

“Virginians deserve clean air.  But on far too many days, people in the D.C. Metro area, including Northern Virginia, are exposed to dangerous smog pollution,” said Sarah Hyman, Federal Associate with Environment Virginia.  “For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.”

The new report ranks cities in Virginia 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 17 additional days last year, residents in the D.C. area and Northern Virginia were exposed to smog levels that a national scientific panel has found to be dangerous to breathe, but because of outdated federal air quality rules, those at risk were never alerted to unhealthy air levels.

Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia, Delegate Patrick Hope from the 47th district of the Virginia House of Delegates, Dr. Jeff Hales of Pulmonary and Medical Associates of Northern Virginia and Helen Rebull of the Virginia Association of School Nurses joined Environment Virginia in releasing today’s report at the Langston-Brown Community Center in Arlington.  

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.

“Children with sensitive airways are the barometers of poor air quality,” said Helen Rebull of the Virginia Association of School Nurses.  “Out of every class, 2 or 3 children will be slowing down, breathing with difficulty, or holding his or her chest in pain. These kids may even have to sit out of the play altogether.”

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 and prominent public health groups expressed deep disappointment with his decision.  

“For too long, smog pollution has left our children gasping for breath,” said Hyman. “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.”

Environment Virginia called on the president to protect the health of Virginia’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 Hyman. “President Obama and Virginia’s members of Congress should stand up for Virginia’s health and oppose any 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.”

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Environment Virginia is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization working for clean air, clean water, and open spaces.  

  • No Party

    If we really wants to get serious about clean air the first step (in my opinion)would be to require timber cutters/land owners to plant back atleast 20% of the land they clearcut with hardwood trees instead of just planting back pines.Will this completely solve the problem ? No but it will make a huge impact over the next ten years.It beats what we are doing now.