Clean Air Survey Records the Smoggiest June in At Least Five Years

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by Glynn Wilson

If recent events in the news like the Colorado wild fires and freak storms in the D.C. area are not enough to convince people that global warming and climate change are real and something should be done about it now, what if people understood that starting to do something about the air pollution problem that is already making people sick is part of the same problem and cries out for a related solution?

Every time we turn around there is another report that shows how we humans are screwing up the planet we live on. Unfortunately, most of the time these stories are written up as isolated incidents with an almost mandatory skepticism and rarely are the dots connected for people between one event and the next and possible solutions.

When the politics related to these stories is covered, it always seems that Republicans are talking about doing anything to protect the environment as a “jobs killer,” when the fact is, many of the pollution problems we face, including smog, are caused by power plants. And fixing the plants or building news ones would provide many high paying jobs, and yes that means union jobs.

There is another report out Thursday on smog from Clean Air Watch, a report which you may read something about in newspapers over the weekend or see on TV in a few days — when they get around to it. But thanks to the Internet, we can bring you the details of his report today.

June wasn’t just hot and stormy, according to the non-profit watchdog group Clean Air Watch. It was the smoggiest June in at least the past five years.

The survey found that in June, people in 41 states and the District of Columbia suffered levels of smog worse than the national ozone standard set by the Bush administration in 2008. Last month was by far the smoggiest June since then. These smog levels are labeled “Code Orange” or “Code Red” under the Air Quality Index system created by the federal government.

The survey found the national health standard for smog, technically ozone, was breached at least 2,110 times at state-run monitoring stations. By comparison, during June 2011, there were 1,240 such events. For 2012 as a whole there have been 3,112 of these dirty-smog readings, compared to 1,689 in 2011. In 2008, there were 1,560 bad air days in June, 540 in 2009, 570 in 2010, 1,240 in 2011 and 2,110 in 2012 — about 25 percent more than the next highest year, which shows the trend is only getting worse.

Clean Air Watch says the widespread nature of the problem underscores the “dire need for new smog-fighting tools,” especially cleaner, low-sulfur gasoline.

The group indicates that the survey itself understates the true extent of the smog problem, and the Environmental Protection Agency conceded more than two years ago that the Bush standard was too weak to protect children with asthma and other people with breathing problems.

“But in the face of oil industry pressure, the White House put off any effort to update the standards until at least 2014,” Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch says. “Oil pressure likewise has stalled a preliminary EPA plan to require oil companies to make cleaner, low-sulfur gasoline.”

EPA has also testified before Congress that such a plan would cost refiners “less than one penny per gallon.” And a recent survey concluded that refiners would likely eat the cost — and that there would be no increase at the pump.

O’Donnell pointed out that low-sulfur gas would mean that every car on the road today would immediately pollute less because catalytic converters would perform better to eliminate smog-forming emissions.

But he also pointed out that oil industry lobbying has prompted the Republicans in the House of Representatives to approve legislation that would prevent EPA from moving forward with cleaner gas.

“That legislation would also undermine the entire basis of the Clean Air Act,” O’Donnell said.

Health and environmental advocates refer to this as the GASP (Gutting Air Standard Protections) Act.

According to the survey, Houston Texas had the highest average ozone levels over eight hours, followed by Memphis Tennessee, Atlanta Georgia, Knoxville Tennessee, South Bend Indiana, Baltimore Maryland and Washington D.C., Charlotte North Carolina, Dallas Texas, Detroit Michigan and Louisville Kentucky.

The 10 cities suffering the highest ozone 8-hr averages in June 2012

#1 Houston, TX – 136 ppb
#2 Memphis, TN -124 ppb
#3 Atlanta, GA – 122 ppb
#4 Knoxville, TN – 121 ppb
#5 South Bend, IN – 117 ppb
#6 Baltimore, MD/Washington, DC (downwind at Blackwater Natl. Wildlife Refuge) – 116 ppb
#7 Charlotte, NC – 111 ppb
#8 (tie) Dallas, TX, Detroit, MI – 110 ppb
#10 Louisville, KY – 109 ppb

A State-by-State Breakdown of Dirty-Air Days (Code Red or Orange) for 2012

State – No. Code Red Days – No. Code Orange Days

New Jersey-7-7
New Mexico-1-2
New York-6-9
North Carolina-5-5
Rhode Island-4-4
South Carolina*-2-2
South Dakota-1-1
West Virginia-3-3

[*This may underestimate the problem in South Carolina because monitored information was not available during the last week in June.]

© 2012 – 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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