By Christine Wallace
From Annapolis to Baltimore to the D.C. suburbs, Maryland’s cities score an F on the American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air report for smog pollution. As a pediatric nurse with decades of experience, I have seen first-hand the health effects of Maryland’s air pollution problems. And as a mother of two, I worry about the impact that long-term air pollution may have on my own children’s health.
Because I work in a profession that is focused on promoting and improving health, I know that identifying exposures in the environment that contribute to illness is necessary for disease prevention. So is having sound policies based on science that put the health of Americans first. Science demonstrated the dangers of second-hand smoke and we changed laws to protect our citizens. Now it’s time for us to take similar action on air pollution.
A large body of scientific evidence demonstrates that breathing in unhealthy levels of air pollutants, such as smog or particle matter, contributes to serious health concerns. In emergency rooms, clinics, and doctor’s offices, bad air days translate into children suffering from asthma attacks and people with chronic heart and lung disease falling seriously ill, even dying prematurely.
Under the Clean Air Act, our country has made great progress in cleaning up the air we breathe, making our communities healthier. But, now, basic rights ascribed by the Clean Air Act are under threat.
Trump administration rollback
The Trump administration just announced its plans to roll back the nation’s clean car standards that cut tailpipe emissions and reduce air pollution. Attempting to withdraw these lifesaving health protections from every American will only exacerbate the health burdens faced by the people of Maryland, putting our health and the health of our children at risk. Cleaner and more efficient cars not only reduce dangerous air pollution, but they help reduce emissions that worsen climate change, working to protect communities from the slew of health risk associated with environmental changes.
What’s worse, the Environmental Protection Agency is threatening the legal authority of Maryland to protect its own citizens from air pollution. The Clean Air Act allows states to adopt stronger automobile emissions standards than the federal government’s.
Maryland and 12 other states have done just that, ensuring the most health-protective vehicle emission standards for their residents. Colorado just announced they intend to adopt these standards as well. By attempting to revoke this authority, the administration is gutting the Clean Air Act and launching an outright attack on the rights of states – representing 118 million Americans – to protect their own citizens.
Maryland leaders fight this action
Maryland state leaders cannot stand for this outrageous assault on healthy air. Attorney General Brian Frosh joined with 16 other states to sue the EPA to preserve the clean cars program, and mayors like Baltimore’s Catherine Pugh and others across the state have joined in this fight. Gov. Larry Hogan has voiced his opposition to the rollback as well.
Our leaders are right to be unequivocal on this issue. In 2011, the direct cost of asthma in Maryland alone was estimated at over $1 billion. Maryland was also noted to have the highest rates of premature deaths related to long term exposure to air pollution compared to any other state in the U.S. We simply cannot afford to compromise our right to protect our citizens from vehicle pollution. Now states have to fight the EPA to maintain that right.
Our children and communities deserve clean air to breathe. Rolling back federal standards and blocking states from setting their own standards for tailpipe emissions that protect our vulnerable community members is unacceptable. We need all of Maryland’s leaders to stand up in the coming months to condemn this rollback and stop the attack on our state’s clean air policies.
Charlotte Wallace is a registered nurse in Arnold, where she lives with her husband and two children, and a member of Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and Moms Clean Air Force.