Cleveland named 14th smoggiest large metropolitan area in the country

Environment Ohio released a new report showing that the Cleveland area ranks as the 14th smoggiest large metropolitan area in the country.

Smog is a harmful air pollutant that leads to asthma attacks and exacerbates respiratory illnesses, especially among children and the elderly. The new report, Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011 shows that in total, residents in the Cleveland area were exposed to air quality that made it dangerous to breathe on 15 days last year. Also, this summer, residents in the Cleveland area have already been alerted to unhealthy air on 11 days.

"Ohioans deserve clean air.  But on far too many days, people in the Cleveland area are exposed to dangerous smog pollution," said Julian Boggs of Environment Ohio.  "For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe."

The new report ranks cities in Ohio and across the country for the number of days when the air was unhealthy to breathe due to smog pollution last year and this summer, and includes new data showing that the problem is even worse than the public thought.  The research shows that on 16 additional days last year, residents in the Cleveland area were exposed to smog levels that a national scientific panel has found to be dangerous to breathe, but because of outdated federal air quality rules, those at risk were never alerted to unhealthy air levels.

Kim Foreman with Environment Health Watch joined Environment Ohio in releasing today's report at Lincoln Recreation Area near Tremont Park in Cleveland.

Smog is one of the most harmful air pollutants, and is also one of the most pervasive. Smog is formed when pollution from cars, power plants, and industrial facilities reacts with other pollutants in the presence of sunlight.  Smog is of particular concern in the summer months when warmer temperatures lead to the build-up of higher concentrations of smog pollution.

On days with elevated levels of smog pollution, children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illness suffer the most. Children who grow up in areas with high levels of smog may develop diminished lung capacity, putting them at greater risk of lung disease later in life. Additionally, children exposed to smog in the womb can experience lower birth weight and growth retardation.  Even among healthy adults, repeated exposure to smog pollution over time permanently damages lung tissues, decreases the ability to breathe normally, exacerbates chronic diseases like asthma, and can even cause premature death.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency is required to set a national standard for smog pollution according to the latest science on air quality and public health.  However, the current standard was set at a level that EPA's own board of independent scientists agree is not adequately protective of public health.  The Obama administration considered updating the standard this year to protect public health, but the president decided earlier this month to abandon this effort until 2013.  Environment Ohio and prominent public health groups expressed deep disappointment with his decision.

"For too long, smog pollution has left our children gasping for breath," said Boggs. "Unfortunately, rather than acting decisively to protect our kids from dangerous air pollution, President Obama chose to kick the can down the road.  Ohio's kids, senior citizens and those suffering from respiratory problems will suffer as a consequence and certainly deserve better."

Environment Ohio called on the president to protect the health of Ohio's children and seniors, and to establish an updated standard for smog pollution that is based on the science. A strong standard could save up to 12,000 lives and prevent up to 58,000 asthma attacks each year.  At the same time, polluters and their allies in the House of Representatives are threatening to make the problem even worse by pushing a bill this week—the TRAIN Act (H.R. 2401)—to roll back existing smog pollution standards for power plants.

"We must make every day a safe day to breathe," said Boggs. "Cleveland's Congressional delegation – Reps Sutton, Fudge, and Kucinich – have done a good job so far standing up to attacks on the clean air act. The rest of Ohio's delegation should join them, and they can start by voting against a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives this week that would roll back existing clean air protections for smog and other deadly pollutants."

The full report can be found online HERE.

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