ANNAPOLIS – Maryland ranked fifth worst in the nation for ozonepollution in 2002, according to a report released Tuesday by the MarylandPublic Interest Research Group.
Ozone pollution increased significantly over the past three years, the report found. The number of times ozone levels exceeded acceptable levelsduring an eight-hour period more than doubled from 2000 to 2001, hitting214 occurrences last year.
This year, occurrences in Maryland during the ozone season – early Mayto mid-August – rose to 252, putting the state fifth in line behind NewJersey, Indiana, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, which ranked No. 1 with544 instances of excessive ozone.
While ozone exists in our upper atmosphere as a protective layer,ground- level ozone, or smog, which forms when certain pollutants react instrong sunlight, is damaging to human health. The American LungAssociation’s 2002 “State of the Air” report found that three-quarters ofAmericans living in areas with ozone monitors are exposed to unhealthylevels of ozone pollution.
“Ozone is like a sunburn on the lungs,” said Brian Fitzek, associate director of communications for Maryland’s American Lung Association.”After 20 years (of monitoring), we’re seeing an asthma epidemic. We’reseeing ozone as one of the main reasons for causing this epidemic.”
Maryland’s Department of the Environment agreed the state has seriousair pollution problems. But the department takes exception to MaryPIRG’sfigures, said spokesman Richard McIntire. The environmental organizationtallied states’ individual air monitors as though each representsstatistics for the whole state, resulting in inflated numbers of”exceedances” for the state, McIntire said. “Overall, we’re all on thesame page here . . . and that is Maryland’s air does stand for someimproving,” he said. “But oftentimes they make it seem like there isn’t alot being done, and there’s quite a lot being done.”
Maryland has strict power plant emissions laws and an aggressivevehicle emissions testing program, he said, among other programs.
Although there are many factors that contribute to smog levels, “theone factor we can control is the amount of smog-forming pollution we putinto the air,” said Colleen Heller, a MaryPIRG environmental associate.
“We may have to live with the heat and geography we’re given, but wedo not have to live with this smog crisis because we have pollutioncontrol technologies that can cut emissions to a tiny fraction of currentlevels if the political will is there to enforce the law,” she said.
MaryPIRG opposes a Bush administration pollution-control initiativecalled “Clear Skies,” preferring existing 30-year-old legislation thatwas amended to include strict standards reducing power plant emissions.
The Bush program would cut 35 million more tons of harmful pollutantsthan existing laws, an EPA press release said in July when thelegislation was first presented in Congress.
But both MaryPIRG and Maryland’s Department of the Environment saidthe 1970 Clean Air Act is sufficient and effective when enforcedproperly.
“We need to stick with the . . . original proposal, and I think that’sthe position that Maryland has taken consistently,” said McIntire. “If wewere to fully implement the (existing program) there would be no need forthe Clear Skies program.”
– 30 – CNS-9-17-02