Caution: Bad Air Quality Ahead

Shanna Cleveland

Hotter Temperatures More than Doubled Smog Days in New England

On October 1, the EPA announced that the number of bad air quality days increased from 11 last year to 28 in 2010.  These are also known as “high ozone days” and are triggered when ozone levels exceed the standards EPA has set to protect public health. Excessive ozone, more commonly known as smog, results from a combination of nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and heat and sunlight. Even short-term exposure to smog has been shown to shorten lives and cause other severe health impacts, including shortness of breath, chest pain, asthma attacks, and increased hospitalization for vulnerable populations such as the very young, elderly, and those already suffering from lung or heart disease. In children, smog can also result in dramatic long-term impacts such as reduced lung development and function.

The hotter the day, the worse the smog—and that smog is intensified by the increased use of electricity from coal and other fossil fuel-fired power plants when we crank up our air conditioners.  Emissions from cars and trucks add to the dangerous mix, and as climate change progresses, the temperatures continue to rise.

Until now, the greater Boston area had experienced an average of 14 days of 90 degrees or more per year. In 2007, the Union of Concerned Scientists had estimated that climate change would result in no more than 15-18 days of 90+ degree weather from 2010-2039.

But in 2010, Boston endured 23 days of 90+ degree weather, far outstripping both the annual average and predictions of what that number would be in the future.  Although EPA has proposed stronger emissions limitations for power plants and cars and trucks, the rapid rise in 90+ degree days is a side effect of climate change that has already been set in motion, and it will continue and worsen unless we take action now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Coal-fired power plants rank as one of the primary culprits when it comes to emitting climate change pollutants and nitrogen oxides.  Across the nation, coal-fired power plants are the second largest source of nitrogen oxide emissions, and here in New England alone, eight coal-fired power plants churn out 10,515 tons of nitrogen oxide a year and millions of tons of carbon dioxide.  By contributing to climate change and increasing smog-forming pollutants, coal-fired power plants pose a major threat to New England’s air quality.  Creating a healthier future for New England means creating a Coal Free New England.  CLF is committed to shutting down each one of these polluting plants by 2020.  Work with CLF to create a thriving, healthy New England.

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