Smog Shocker: smog down almost 50% in 2009

December 4, 2009 at 10:13 AM Leave a comment

If you think there’s less smog this year, you are probably right. Thanks in large part to cooler temperatures and more rain, the number of dirty-air days for smog nationwide has dropped by almost half in 2009 compared to last year, according to a survey by the non-profit Clean Air Watch.


The survey by Clean Air Watch volunteers is the first comprehensive snapshot of smog in the United States in 2009. It found that the national health standard for smog, technically ozone, was breached more than 2,600 times through August 31 at monitoring stations in 37 states and the District of Columbia. During the same period last year, there were more than 5,000 such events, known in the jargon of the bureaucracy as “exceedences.” There were several key factors in the smog drop, according to Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch: cooler, wetter weather, less use of coal-burning electric power plants to run air conditioners, the general decline in the economy, and the continuing turnover of cars and trucks to new models that meet tougher clean-air requirements.

“Despite the improvement, we can’t afford to drop our efforts to reduce smog-forming pollution,” O’Donnell said. “We can’t count on rain to wash the pollution away. Scientists warn that global warming could make it harder to achieve clean-air standards in the future. And, obviously, a sick economy is not the right cure for dirty air.”

Clean Air Watch is urging the EPA to take further steps to reduce ozone-forming pollution, including: Setting new requirements to reduce smog-forming pollution from coal-fired power plants; Following through with tougher pollution standards for ocean-going ships, whose emissions can reach far into inland areas; Rejecting efforts by one diesel engine maker to delay new truck pollution standards; and Rejecting efforts to pemit higher levels of smog-forming corn-based ethanol in gasoline. O’Donnell noted that the statistics likely underestimate the full extent of the smog problem.

The standard – 75 parts per billion, set by the EPA in 2008 – is weaker than the levels recommended by EPA’s scientific advisers. Clean Air Watch is encouraging the Obama administration to set a tougher national health standard in accord with the latest health research. Ozone, commonly described as smog, can trigger asthma attacks, send people to hospital emergency rooms and shorten lives.

Even though there were fewer dirty-air days overall, the survey of public web sites found monitored readings of harmful smog levels in states from coast to coast – from Washington and California to New Hampshire, Maine and Florida. As in past years, the most severe problems generally have been in California. The smog problems are unrelated to the hazardous smoke pollution created by the California wildfires.

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