Downeast region would benefit from stronger ozone standard

Downeast region would benefit

from stronger ozone standard

By Elsie Flemings and Eleody Libby

Downeast families need national air quality standards that give our kids a healthy chance to succeed.

Here in Hancock and Washington counties, 9 percent of children under the age of 18 have asthma. That means that on any given school day, one out of 11 students at Elm Street School in East Machias, George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill or Shead High School in Eastport is at risk for missing a math test, a ball game or band practice because of an asthma attack.

The impacts of asthma in our region also go well beyond the school setting. According to the Maine CDC, one out of nine adults in Hancock and Washington counties reports having current asthma, which is much higher than the national average. And each year over 650 emergency department visits in our region are due to asthma. When compared to overall population, this also is significantly higher than the rate for all of Maine.

As public health professionals for Healthy Acadia and Washington County: One Community, serving Hancock and Washington counties, we are very concerned about the impacts of air pollution on our communities.

The health effects of air pollution can range from shortness of breath to asthma attacks to life-threatening heart attacks. Illness and poor health lead to missed days of school and work, as well as increased costs of health care for families and local businesses. These lost days of education and exercise, lost productivity and higher health care costs are shared by the entire community — everyone is affected and we must work together to solve it.

By now we’ve all heard the saying, “Maine is the tailpipe of the nation” because we are breathing the air that travels here from states to the south and west of us.

The American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report consistently shows southern, coastal and Downeast Maine have the highest numbers of unhealthy air days every year. Hancock and York counties both received a “D” on last year’s report card due to our high number of unhealthy ozone days.

Ozone, which also is called smog, is one of the most widespread air pollutants. It is created in the atmosphere when gasses that come out of tailpipes and smokestacks mix with warm air and sunshine. Ozone is particularly dangerous for children, seniors and people with asthma and other lung diseases, but even healthy adults who work or exercise outdoors can be harmed by breathing ozone.

Our nation’s ozone pollution standard has been out of date for many years, giving us a false sense of security about when the air is safe to breathe. We need an ozone standard that reflects the latest science and adequately protects our communities.

The good news is that last month the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the federal agency established to monitor and enforce the Clean Air Act, proposed a new ozone standard that will make the air healthier to breathe. A stronger standard will reduce pollution flowing into Maine from other states and give parents and seniors more accurate information about when and where there is unhealthy air.

The comment period for the new ozone standard has begun. The EPA will be accepting public comments until March 17, 2015, and will issue a final ruling by Oct. 1, 2015. As one of the regions that is most at risk in Maine and the nation, we owe it to our kids and our local economies to weigh in in support of science-based standards. Anyone can share their thoughts with the EPA by going to their website.

The sun rises here and the nation’s air settles here. That’s why Washington and Hancock counties understand better than most the need for strong national air standards. Sens. Ed Muskie, Bill Cohen and George Mitchell knew that too, which is why they were the architects and the defenders of the pivotal Clean Air Act — a landmark law that has been improving the nation’s air for over 40 years.

In 2015, Sens. Collins and King and Reps. Poliquin and Pingree will face difficult choices. Proposals are being introduced to weaken the Clean Air Act and undermine the important monitoring and enforcement functions of the EPA. Let’s join together and tell them that Maine’s Downeast counties are not interested in rollbacks that put our kids, our seniors and our local businesses at risk, all for the benefit of out-of-state polluters.

Let’s make sure the students across Washington and Hancock counties never miss a math exam or a soccer game or a class trip because of an asthma attack brought on by unhealthy air.

Elsie Flemings is the executive director of Healthy Acadia. Eleody Libby is the executive director of Washington County: One Community.

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