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Pete Altman’s Blog

Smog in Our Cities and Parks

Pete Altman

Posted August 11, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment

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Are your kids safe from air pollution? It depends on where you live, what’s nearby and where you vacation.

Kids and their developing bodies are more vulnerable than adults to the health hazards that come from smog. Before air pollution reaches levels that are bad enough to affect adults, it can trigger asthma attacks and cause other respiratory problems in kids.

That’s why when smog levels are high enough to harm kids, elderly adults and people with health problems local governments issue “Code Orange” alerts, using air quality data collected from monitors across the country.

So how bad is the air that our children breathe? To find out, we reviewed data from the epa to determine how many areas in the us have experienced smog levels that are dangerous to kids and how many days those locations have had those dangerous air days.

The results are eye-opening. They show just how badly we need the Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama administration to stop delaying new ozone standards and get on with doing a better job of protecting our children.

Here’s what we found:

From January 1st through August 8th 2011, EPA data shows that there have been 2,012 dangerous air days in 252 cities, suburbs – and even national parks.

The Top 20 states for Code Orange conditions and the # of incidients they've had this year are:

CA (930); NJ (114); CT (74); TX (58); NC (52); TN (52); OH (50); PA (49); MI (44); CO (44); VA (43); OK (43); MD (42); NY (38); MO (35); GA (34); SC (24); KY (24); IL (23); MA (21); IN (21); AZ (20); DC (20); LA (20); FL (19); WI (18) and DE (17.)

You can find a table of the cities and other places where the air has been unsafe right here.

Now, smog in our cities is one thing. But what about in our national parks? That’s right, national parks, where we take our families and kids for the great outdoors and pristine clean air – have experienced 124 dangerous air days combined.

Here’s a list of those parks  and the number of unsafe air days in each since January 1:

Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks CA 44
Joshua Tree National Park CA 39
Rocky Mountain National Park CO 15
Great Smoky Mtns. Natl. Park* TN 14
Yosemite National Park CA 4
Death Valley National Park CA 3
Acadia National Park ME 2
Shenandoah National Park VA 2
Cowpens National Battlefield SC 1

Why so many dangerous air days in parks? Because pollution doesn’t just sit over our cities – it drifts across states lines and into even wilderness areas like national parks. Now if even the air over our national parks can be dangerous to breathe, we clearly need to reduce smog pollution.

The EPA took a giant step toward curbing smog pollution by cracking down on power plants in eastern states that are responsible for so much of the problem.

The next step is to update the public health safeguards that protect children and their families from smog pollution throughout the country. As my colleagues and I have discussed before, the EPA’s Science Advisory Committee has recommended the EPA tighten the smog standard because the current one isn’t protective enough. Better protections from smog pollution could save an estimated 12,000 American lives and stop 58,000 asthma attacks each year, according to the EPA.  

Unfortunately, the US Chamber of Commerce is once again leading the charge for businesses that don’t think saving lives is worth the effort of cleaning up pollution. The Chamber and friends are trying to convince President Obama to use his executive authority to stop the EPA from even updating the smog standards that health experts and scientists say we need.

That’s why we’re launching this “Unsafe Air Ticker” this week first in DC and more broadly in coming days. It’s a reminder that what’s at stake here is the health of millions of kids who are counting on us to make the air safe for them to breathe.

You can help by clicking here to take action.

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Comments

Katrina MAug 16 2011 09:06 AM

I hope that the urban tree canopy will be factored into these new protections. It's a long-term fix that most people wouldn't automatically think of, but increasing urban tree canopy could cut down on pollution and the heat that makes it all worse. Most cities don't have a sufficient tree canopy to begin with, so it is little wonder that they have problems with air quality.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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