Last month the CT Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released its report on the state of Connecticut’s environment. The report tracked the number of unhealthy air days there were in Connecticut last year. There were 17 bad air days, meaning that for over two weeks during the hot summer months Connecticut’s air was burdened with ground level ozone.
As bad as 17 days of unhealthy are, last year the air in Connecticut was better than most years because the pandemic caused traffic and businesses to shut-down for much of that year. The shut-down lessened the air pollution which when mixed with sunlight causes ground level ozone to form. In some past summers, Connecticut has had almost a month of unhealthy air days.
In New England, Connecticut has the highest number of unhealthy air days recorded each year. The next New England state with a number of days that do not meet EPA air standards is Rhode Island. They had four bad air days last year compared to Connecticut’s 17. Connecticut’s air is affected by heavy vehicle traffic and by midwestern power plants that send their pollution eastward into Connecticut. Connecticut has been complaining to EPA about this for years – but we are still suffering.
Why is it important to regulate ozone?
Ground level ozone makes it difficult to breathe, as it harms people’s lungs. According to American Lung Association, it may be hard to imagine that pollution could be invisible, but ozone begins that way. As ozone mixes with other pollutants it becomes ground level ozone and it becomes harmful to health.
Many areas in the United States produce enough ozone during the summer months to cause health problems that can be felt right away. Immediate problems of ozone include:
shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing;
increased risk of respiratory infections;
increased susceptibility to pulmonary inflammation; and
increased need for people with lung diseases, like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), to receive medical treatment and to go to the hospital.
According to EPA relatively low levels of ozone can cause health effects. Long-term exposure to ozone is not only linked to aggravating asthma, but is likely to be one of many causes of the development of asthma.
What can be done during the summer months when our air is unhealthy?
First, it is important to get warnings when the air will be harmful to breathe. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection forecasts from May to September when there is going to be an “Ozone Action Day” and the air will be unhealthy. This is an important tool for people to have as they plan their activities for the next day.
Secondly, it is important not to burn wood on unhealthy air days. Burning wood creates particulate matter that also causes breathing problems. Adding particulates to air already polluted with ozone will make breathing even more difficult.
The state should regulate wood burning on “non-attainment days” known as bad air days. So far there are no regulations about burning wood on unhealthy air days. Many areas have regulated burning on days and weeks when the air is bad in order to protect the public’s health. Connecticut should do the same.
And lastly, Connecticut should continue suing the midwestern states for sending the pollution from their dirty power plants into Connecticut. EPA needs to step up and better regulate these plants for the sake of the people who live in those states as well as for the people in the New England states.
Nancy Alderman is President of Environment and Human Health, Inc.