by Renée Canada
While the state of Connecticut enjoys many honorable distinctions, one of its latest associations is nothing to brag about. Bridgeport, CT, along with New York, NY and Newark, NJ, makes up the fifth smoggiest metropolitan area in the country to date in 2011, according to a report released Wednesday by Environmental California. The area had among the highest number of smoggy days reported through August 21 of this year, according to Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011.
This report also suggested that the country’s 10 smoggiest metro areas experienced more days of polluted than publicly disclosed, based on a review of 2010 data. According to Environmental California, the national health standard for smog pollution set in 2008 was set at a level that is not protective of public health from a scientist’s perspective.
While air quality has improved considerably in the last decade, nearly half of Americans still reside in places where there are unhealthy levels of smog, increasing the risk of asthma and other respiratory problems. Environmental California cites exposure to smog as one of the triggers for asthma attacks, leading to permanent lung damage and potentially even premature death.
In the National Ranking of Metropolitan Areas by Smog Days in 2010, Stamford-Norwalk tied with five other cities for #39, making it the smoggiest area in Connecticut. Bridgeport also made the top 50 at number 49, along with Las Vegas, which has more than triple its population. Our capital city of Hartford ranks 58, along with Danbury and 5 other metropolitan areas. When ranked by population size for smog days in 2010, Hartford ranked 32, along with San Jose, CA and Bergen-Passaic, NJ
The top 20 smoggiest mid-sized metropolitan areas, those with populations between 250,000 and 1 million people, include two areas in Connecticut and three areas in other eastern states, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Stamford-Norwalk ranked 14th with 11 smog days, with a highest exceedance of 91 ppb. According to the report, a smog day is defined as one where a specific area exceeds the 8-hour ozone concentration of 75 ppb (parts per billion). Bridgeport ranked 18th with 9 smog days and a highest exceedance of 80 ppb.
Of the top smoggiest small metropolitan areas, Danbury ranked 4th, along with Kenosha and Sheboygan, WI. Danbury had 7 smog days, a highest exceedance of 97 ppb, and one “red alert” day, when extremely poor air quality could cause adverse health effects to the general public.
The smog pollution report came just days before the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill known as the TRAIN (Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation) Act. Passed today, this bill is argued to undermine two key Clean Air Act protections limiting smog, soot, mercury and “other toxic pollutants from power plants,“ Environmental America said in a press release on Wednesday.
It also requires that a panel of cabinet members review all standards issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental America says this is a function already performed by two existing agencies.
This past Wednesday, the Obama administration issued a statement against the bill in favor of the EPA’s ability to carry out Clean Air Act rules—the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. This past summer, the EPA finalized the latter to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides from power plants in the eastern half of the United States to protect communities downwind of dangerous smog and soot pollution.
According to the administration’s statement, these rules would prevent “tens of thousands of premature deaths, prevent tens of thousands of heart attacks and thousands of hospital visits for respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and alleviate hundreds of thousands of childhood asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses.”
The White House’s support comes after a Sept. 2 announcement that it would not act on proposed tightening of ozone standards. The EPA recommended reducing the ground-level ozone standard to between 60 and 70 parts per billion from the 84 parts set in 1997, according to The Huffington Post. The EPA estimates this would “save up to 12,000 American lives, 58,000 asthma attacks and 2.5 million missed days of school or work each year.”
Asthma alone costs the U.S. economy $20 billion a year due to health and productivity losses, according to the National Institutes of Health in 2004.
Approximately 245,000 adults and 93,000 children in Connecticut suffer from asthma, according to Environmental Connecticut.
That organization cites mercury as one of the most dangerous air pollutants. It claims that power plants in our state emitted 219 pounds of mercury pollution in 2009. Studies suggest that even a gram of mercury can fully contaminate a 20-acre lake.
According to Environmental Connecticut’s report “Dirty Energy’s Assault on our Health,” the deaths of approximately 13,200 Americans could be traced to heart attacks, strokes, asthma attacks and other conditions triggered or worsened by air pollution from power plants. Mercury, a byproduct of coal power production, may also be found in the bloodstream of potentially one in six women in their childbearing years, putting expectant mothers and children at risk.
The TRAIN Act would also delay adequate mercury standards from being adopted.
“Americans deserve clean air. But on far too many days, people all across the country are exposed to dangerous smog pollution,” said Lauren Randall, Clean Air Associate for Environment America in a press release. “For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.”
Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011 offered these recommendations for improving air quality:
• To protect public health, EPA must set a National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ground-level ozone within the range of 60-70 parts per billion averaged over eight hours.
• Pollution from cars and trucks accounts for a third of smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions in the United States, and steps should be taken to reduce that pollution
• State and federal governments should accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels and toward a clean energy economy.
• Lastly, Congress should eliminate subsidies that help keep our nation dependent on polluting fossil fuels.