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Meghan Hassett,
Environment Massachusetts

Boston’s health at risk with 92 dirty air days in 2015

For Immediate Release

Boston, MA – Air pollution remains a major threat to our health, according to a new report from Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center, Our Health at Risk: Why Are Millions of Americans Still Breathing Unhealthy Air? In 2015, people here in Boston experienced 92 unhealthy air pollution days, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts.

“Even one day with unhealthy air is too many,” said Meghan Hassett, Campaign Organizer with Environment Massachusetts.

“Burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and gas threatens our health,” added Madison Benoit, UMass Amherst student and 100% Renewable Energy Intern with MassPIRG. “It’s time to shift to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.”

The report comes during National Public Health Week, a celebration of efforts to tackle the underlying causes of disease – like air pollution – and ensure that all people have a chance to live long and healthy lives.

Although our air is less polluted than it was 30 years ago, dirty air is still a major health problem. Despite that fact, President Trump is taking an axe to important programs that could help clean up our air. In just the last month, the Trump Administration has:

  • Instructed the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, the largest step the United States has ever taken to cut dangerous global warming pollution;

  • Proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, a “get out of jail free card” for polluters;

  • Instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back federal clean cars standards that were supposed to prevent 6 billion metric tons of global warming pollution; and

  • Told the Department of Interior to rewrite air pollution regulations for oil and gas drilling.

These actions will have significant health impacts. Blocking the Clean Power Plan alone will slow progress in cleaning our air – leading to 3,600 additional premature deaths, 90,000 more asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 more missed work and school days by 2030.

“Going backwards on clean air is reckless and wrong,” said Dr. Daniel Faber, Director of Northeastern Environmental Justice Research Collaborative. “We should be doing more to clean up pollution and develop clean energy. We need to shift away from dirty fuels that cause air pollution by moving to 100 percent clean, renewable energy across our whole society.”

Our Health at Risk reviews EPA records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and soot – dangerous pollutants that come from burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Key findings include:

  • People in Boston experienced 41 days with elevated smog pollution and 92 days with elevated soot pollution in 2015.

  • Boston ranked 2nd in Massachusetts for worst smog and soot pollution in 2015.

  • Across Massachusetts, 6 cities had unhealthy levels of air pollution on at least 12 days during 2015, including Boston, Worcester, and Pittsfield.

Many Massachusetts residents may be exposed to air pollution even more severe than described here because they live in local pollution “hotspots,” such as near freeways, airports and industrial facilities – facing greater health impacts. For example, people who live near highly traveled roads are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, and at greater risk of death from stroke, lung disease and heart disease.

“There's no safe level of exposure to smog and particulate pollution,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, “Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. "Elevated levels of air pollution – even levels the federal government says are safe for most people – hurt our health.”

“And it’s not just soot and smog,” said Patrick Kinney, Beverly A. Brown Professor of Urban Health at Boston University. “We also have to worry about global warming pollution. Warming is extending the smog season across more of the year, and driving up smog levels on hot days. Along with drought, warming is also making wildfires more frequent and intense – causing additional pollution that can travel hundreds of miles.”

Speakers urged Massachusetts’ federal representatives to stand up to attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act, to maintain the strength of the nation’s Clean Car Standards, and to accelerate our transition to clean energy.

“In the face of reckless and dangerous actions from the Trump Administration on clean air, Senators Warren and Markey must stand up for our health,” said Hassett.

And at the state level, Governor Baker has an opportunity to help clean the air and protect our health by doubling the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the coming months.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is the best regional clean air and climate protection program in the country. This program limits dangerous pollution from power plants in Massachusetts and across the region – helping to slow the warming of our planet. It also fuels investment in clean energy by making polluters pay to pollute. It has helped to clean our air, saving 60 lives in Massachusetts over its first six years in operation.

“To protect public health, we must keep cutting soot, smog and carbon pollution,” said Dr. Richard Clapp, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Health at Boston University School of Public Health. “Doubling the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative will accelerate our transition to renewable energy and help clean our air.”

“Governor Baker should work with other governors in the region to double the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative as soon as possible,” concluded Hassett. “The more we cut pollution, the sooner dirty air days can become a thing of the past.”

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Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization. We are dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit www.environmentmassachusettscenter.org.