Delaware vulnerable to high levels of smog, report says

 Much of Delaware's air pollution comes from out of state. Brunner Island three-unit coal-fired plant located on the west bank of the Susquehanna River, is seen in York Haven, Pa. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Much of Delaware's air pollution comes from out of state. Brunner Island three-unit coal-fired plant located on the west bank of the Susquehanna River, is seen in York Haven, Pa. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The Wilmington area has some of the highest levels of smog pollution in the country, according to a report released Thursday.

Environment America Research & Policy Center’s Our Health at Risk report ranks the area 2nd in the northeast and 5th in the nation for its amount of particulate matter.

“Even one day with unhealthy air is too many. Burning dirty fuels, like coal, oil and gas threatens our health,” said Lindsey Mendelson, climate associate for Environment America. “It’s time to switch to clean renewable energy.”

The environmental advocacy organization reviewed Environmental Protection Agency records of air pollution levels across the U.S. The document focuses on smog and soot, which are released from burning fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

The report shows the Wilmington metropolitan area experienced the worst air pollution in Delaware in 2015, with 97 days of elevated smog pollution and 212 days of unhealthy levels of soot.

The region also had unhealthy levels of soot more than half the days of the year, according to the report.

Sussex County and the Dover metropolitan area experienced 49 and 40 days of elevated smog pollution, respectively.

Smog can contribute to significant breathing problems, such as asthma, as well as organ failure, and can trigger premature birth, according to the organization.

Delawareans who live near “hotspots” like freeways, airports and industrial facilities are at the greatest risk—facing a greater chance of death from illnesses like lung cancer, stroke, lung disease and heart disease, the organization reports.

Members of the organization and others say they’re concerned the Trump administration’s environmental policies will cause air quality to worsen significantly.

President Trump recently issued an executive order that rescinds several of Obama-era executive orders that aimed to regulate carbon emissions and curtail climate change. He also proposes significant budget cuts to the EPA.

Mendelson said cutting back on regulations creates a “get out of jail card” for polluters.

“We need to be strengthening our clean air laws, not rolling them back,” she said.

State Rep. John Kowolko, D-Newark, said he believes the report could be used to counter Trump and other special interests.

“It appears the current administration in Washington is intent on resurrecting the failed policies that have allowed companies to disregard and ignore any responsibility they might have to protect our environment and the health of our citizens,” he said. “Moving forward to a goal of zero emissions and a healthy environment are the responsibilities and obligations we must accept unconditionally.” 

University of Delaware professor Cristina Archer said ozone in Delaware already exceeds the national standard. As global warming is expected to double by the mid-century, it means ozone pollution will likely increase, as it is at its worst in warmer temperatures.

“We cannot improve people’s health, let alone save lives, without effective policy measures, guided by the strongest scientific evidence and most advanced methods,” Archer said.

“Many actions by current administration, like rolling back the Clean Power Plan or expanding coal burning, are threats to people’s health. Burning coal emits large amounts of soot, particulate matter, which are even more dangerous debris than ozone—and, of course, large amounts of CO2, which directly contributes to global warming.”

She said much of the ozone problems in Delaware are caused by the drifting of pollution from other states. Archer said states as far as Ohio are contributing to the ozone problem in Delaware more than the state itself.

She and her research group are working in cooperation with Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to address these issues. Next week, they will participate in an EPA public hearing in Washington to discuss the problem of pollution transported into Delaware.

Mendelson said Delaware also is taking action to improve air quality as one of nine states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Program, which aims to limit pollution from power plants in Delaware and across the region. She said emissions have been cut in half in the last decade, and her organization is calling on governors to double the rate, cutting emissions from 2.5 to 5 percent each year in the next decade.

“The more we do to cut pollution,” concluded Mendelson, “the healthier we all will be.”

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