Trouble in the Air: One-half of Mainers live in areas that experienced at least 44 days of polluted air in 2018
BANGOR, ME – One-half of all Mainers live in areas that suffered through at least 44 days of poor air quality due to air pollution in 2018, according to a new report from Environment Maine Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and Maine PIRG Education Fund. Statistics from 2018 represent the most recent data available. Air pollution increases the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts.
“No Mainer should have to experience one day of polluted air -- let alone 44 days,” said Anya Fetcher, State Director with Environment Maine Research & Policy Center. “Air quality will only get worse as our climate warms, so we have no time to lose. We must make progress toward clean air.”
For the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2018, researchers reviewed Environmental Protection Agency air pollution records from across the country. The report focuses on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution, both of which are harmful pollutants emitted by burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline, natural gas and other sources, like wildfires.
Table A1. Days with elevated ozone, particulates and total pollution, by geographic area, 2018 (PM2.5 refers to fine particulate pollution smaller than 2.5 micrometers)
“Clean air is not a prescription any physician can write, yet it is a much needed treatment," said Dr. Neelima Tummala, clinical assistant professor of surgery at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. "While the profound consequences on human health are alarming, what gives me hope is that studies show that improved air quality can mitigate these health effects."
Dr. Tummala pointed to studies showing that a long-term improvement in air quality can lead to improved lung function in children and decreased incidence of asthma.
The report’s troubling findings come at a time when the federal government is further endangering air quality by dismantling protections under the Clean Air Act.
“The data show that America’s existing air quality standards aren’t doing enough to protect our health,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. "As the climate warms, higher temperatures and more severe wildfires increase air pollution and the threat to human wellness."
The report calls on policymakers to reduce emissions from transportation, support clean renewable energy, and expand climate-friendly transportation options with more public transit, bike lanes and walkways. The study also implores the federal government to strengthen ozone and particulate pollution standards, and support strong clean car standards rather than rolling them back.
The problem is not just in cities, Oxford and Aroostook Counties - both rural communities within Maine's 2nd Congressional District - experienced 44 days of polluted air last year. “Congressman Golden should continue to take every opportunity to clean up the air we breathe,” said Fetcher. “Since transportation is the most polluting sector of our economy, we need to transition to electric cars, buses and transit.”
Environment Maine Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. For more information, visit www.environmentmainecenter.org.