WASHINGTON – Residents of the Baltimore-Washington region rank air pollution as their top environmental concern, according to a poll released Wednesday.
About 40 percent of the 2,202 residents and employers polled between December and February ranked air pollution as the region’s top environmental worry – followed by solid waste and water pollution.
“You can’t see it, and sometimes you can’t smell it, but it [air pollution] will kill you,” said Stephen J. Del Giudice, a Prince George’s County councilman.
“This isn’t Los Angeles, where you can look out and see the problem, but it’s still there and just as harmful,” said William Hanna, a Montgomery County councilman and chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee.
“Ozone is the area’s worst pollution problem, and it has particularly bad effects on children, the elderly and anyone with respiratory problems,” Hanna said.
Ozone is a colorless, odorless gas formed chiefly during hot summer days through a series of chemical reactions, a committee handout said. It can react with lung tissue and aggravate a number of respiratory problems.
Quentin Banks, spokesman for Maryland’s Department of the Environment, said 600,000 people in the state suffer from some form of respiratory problem, including asthma and emphysema. “Obviously, ozone doesn’t help their conditions,” he said.
Air pollution was followed in the Washington area by concerns about solid waste, with 24 percent of residents and employers calling that their chief worry.
In the Baltimore area, 27 percent of the residents polled and 23 percent of the employers ranked water pollution a top concern, the survey reported.
The poll was commissioned by the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee and the Transportation Planning Board in association with the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. The Gallup Organization conducted it.
The groups are charged with formulating a plan to meet Clean Air Act requirements, said spokeswoman Sherry Conway Appel.
By 1996, the Clean Air Act requires the region to reduce air pollution from 1990 levels by 15 percent, Appel said. By 1999, air pollution must be reduced by at least 24 percent.
Appel said the federal government could withhold federal transportation funds worth hundreds of millions of dollars if these standards aren’t met.
Nine out of ten residents from Washington and Baltimore would be willing to take some action to reduce ozone and air pollution, the report said.
“A majority of the residents and businesses are primed to participate and want to get involved,” said Ellen M. Bozman, an Arlington County board vice chairwoman. “They know they contribute to air pollution, and they are willing to take actions to reduce it.”
Car pooling is one of the best ways people can cut down on the pollution, Bozman said. “When we talk about pollution from automobiles, only one-third of that comes from commuting,” she said. Car pooling is especially effective at other times, such as grocery shopping or entertainment trips, she said.
Appel said women seem to be more environmentally conscious than men.
Ninety-four percent of women in the region said they would be willing to take action to reduce air pollution, compared to 89 percent of men in Washington and 84 percent in Baltimore.
Max D. Larsen, vice president of the Gallup Organization, said the poll shows people are getting the message that individuals are personally responsible for air pollution.
About half of all residents said individuals – not the government – should be responsible for environmental clean-up, Larsen said. Gallup interviewed by telephone 985 residents and 257 employers in Washington and 719 residents and 241 employers in Baltimore. The sampling error ranged from 3.1 percent for Washington-area residents to 6.2 percent for both area’s employers. -30-