Study finds 'dangerous' levels of smog in Chicago & St. Louis areas

Posted: 10/3/2011

From Progress Illinois:

A new study from Environment Illinois reveals the Chicago and St. Louis areas are smog ridden and in need dire of greater protections for residents. The St. Louis metropolitan area ranked seventh on the list with Chicago in better, but not great, shape.

"Illinoisans deserve clean air. But on far too many days people in the Chicago and St. Louis areas are exposed to dangerous smog pollution," said Environment Illinois' Bruce Ratain. "For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe."

Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced it would not update standards for ground-level ozone pollution, more commonly called smog, in the face of a unanimous decision from an independent board created under the Clean Air Act. Instead, President Obama decided to keep the current 2008 regulatory cap of 75 parts per billion instead of lowering it to 70 parts per billion, as suggested by his own EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson.

Last week, the United States Senate received the TRAIN Act of 2011, which would set up a committee to evaluate EPA regulations every four years, specifically the Clean Air Act. The targeted attempt by Republican House members to undermine the 40 year-old piece of legislation now sits in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works lead by Democrat Barbara Boxer and Republican Jim Inhofe.

Senator Inhofe receives notoriety every year for mocking global warming during the winter months and now sits as the minority chair for the environmental committee. The TRAIN Act seeks to determine the economic impacts of environmental regulations on a global scale. The business friendly TRAIN Act would further delay stricter regulations on mercury and other toxins in addition to eliminating any deadlines for action on such regulations. Furthermore, the legislation calls for the creation of another agency to evaluate regulations without public input or accountability.

Despite the findings of studies like the one conducted by Environment Illinois, which show that cities around the nation are exposed to harmful levels of ozone pollution, Republican leadership continues to push the TRAIN act and allow businesses to pollute in the name of job creation.

Smog forms when sunlight reacts to pollution from cars, power plants and various other sources. Warmer temperatures during the summer months lead to higher concentrations. Harmful smog levels are particularly dangerous for people suffering from asthma and other respiratory diseases. According the the American Lung Association, 718,000 adults and 243,000 children are afflicted with asthma in Illinois alone.

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 react 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 the pollution.

"The science is clear; asthma attacks and fatalities from asthma increase on days when air pollution is at its worst," said Dr. Susan Buchanan, director of the Great Lakes Center for Children's Environmental Health.Nationally, blocking environmental regulations through the TRAIN Act would result in more than 11,000 heart attacks, 12,200 hospital and emergency room visits, up to 25,300 premature deaths, and thousands of missed work and school days. Environmental groups place the blame on smog and toxic air pollution.

Chicago residents took in unhealthy air on 15 days over the past summer. The East-Metro area experienced 23 such days with two of them being "Red Alerts", meaning the air quality could harm even a healthy person.

"Despite claims that the EPA's action will only delay a valid ozone health standard for two years, history shows that it could be delayed by a decade or more, putting millions of Illinoisans at risk," said Brian Urbaszewski, director of Environmental Health Programs at the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.

U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) could play a pivotal role in the TRAIN Act's future. Kirk boasted in the past of his environmental work, endorsements from environmental advocacy groups, and his efforts to stop BP expansion in Indiana that would have adversely affected Lake Michigan. Environment Illinois criticized Sen. Kirk for voting against the EPA's efforts to clean up carbon dioxide pollution earlier this year.

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

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