by Susan Lyon and Matthew Kasper
Last week, Environment America released Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011, a comprehensive ranking of metropolitan areas’ dangerous air days in 2010 and 2011. But unlike past studies, this one incorporates the most recent science on what healthy air really looks like – and finds dirtier results than we’ve been told.
The report calculates additional days of unhealthy air relative to the 2008 EPA ozone standard, 75 parts per billion (ppb), which scientists and the EPA’s independent advisory panel now argue is not sufficient. Environment America’s calculations are at 70 ppb or below, a standard that is more consistent with what scientists say is necessary to protect public health. The new report adds up bad air days based on the best science, finding:
“The problem may have been even worse than we thought. Because the national health standard for smog pollution set in 2008 was set at a level that scientists agree is not protective of public health, people across the country have been exposed to days of poor air quality each summer without even knowing it. We have calculated the additional days on which the air was unhealthy to breathe, according to a pollution threshold that is more consistent with what scientists say is necessary to protect public health. But because the 2008 standard was set too loosely, the public was not alerted to these days of unhealthy air.”
Across the state of California, for example, there were 135 smog days in 2010 exceeding recommended levels – that’s more than a third of the year. According to the report, ten metropolitan areas – Houston, TX, the Washington, DC area, Baltimore, MD, Philadelphia, PA- NJ, Riverside-San Bernardino, CA, Visalia-Tulare-Porterville, CA, Bakersfield, CA, Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA, Fresno, CA, , and Atlanta, GA – rank worst in the country for smog pollution based on the number of unhealthy air days they experience.