Why Moms Can’t Accept the District’s Smog Problem

BY ON March 13, 2015

Girl wearing protective mask

This piece was written by Molly Rauch and Julie Hantman, both of whom are D.C. moms.

With the city’s free museums and its universal pre-K program, we give D.C. an “A” as a place to raise kids. That’s why as moms we’re troubled that the D.C. metropolitan region gets an “F” from the American Lung Association for smog, a powerful lung irritant that triggers asthma and shortens lives. For a city with 14,000 asthmatic children – almost 13 percent of all D.C.’s children – that’s a grade that we moms can’t accept.

Until March 17th, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is accepting public comments on a proposal to tighten national standards for ground-level ozone, the scientific term for smog. Currently the standard is 75 parts per billion.

Strong evidence indicates serious health impacts from smog, even at lower levels. EPA’s external scientific advisory panel found that a smog standard of 60 parts per billion would be healthier for Americans and would especially protect those most vulnerable to the health effects of smog, including children. We agree that EPA should set the ozone limit at 60 parts per billion.

The District’s smog problem is a prism for the nation as a whole, and shows why we can’t put off stronger federal standards for this harmful air pollutant.

Ground-level ozone is formed when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds combine in the presence of sunlight. Heat speeds up this process, which is why we commonly have air quality alerts in the dog days of summer. But even in the winter our region can struggle to keep smog levels down.

Despite its infamous Beltway traffic, further reductions in emissions from cars, trucks, and other local pollution sources will only go so far. The D.C. metro region creates only about 25 percent of its smog pollution. Most of the smog our families breathe originates in other states — from dirty coal plants in the Midwest, whose pollution routinely drifts our way.

Stronger national standards will help clean up the sources of smog here at home and in other places across the country, so that the District’s families can breathe easier.

There are cost effective ways to reduce smog pollution. In some cases, this means installing pollution control devices on polluting facilities. In other cases, it means running those pollution control devices instead of leaving them idle. Indeed, some power plants in states upwind of the District simply don’t turn on the pollution controls that have already been installed. The resulting pollution can trigger asthma attacks in our children. That’s an affront to us as mothers.

Our region’s smog levels are on the decline – something we applaud – but they are still high enough to cause health problems in children. Our kids need polluters around D.C. and in other states to clean up their act.

Asthmatic children aren’t the only District residents who would benefit. Smog pollution interferes with children’s lung development and may even affect pregnant women, decreasing birth weight in newborns. It causes heart failure and respiratory infections, sending older adults to the hospital, sometimes with fatal results. Adults and children who exercise, work, or play outside – even those without asthma – can cough, get short of breath, and feel that signature burn in their lungs on the smoggiest days.

Breathing smog harms everyone – from our children playing at neighborhood playgrounds to Members of Congress working on the Hill.

When kids bring home bad grades, moms are prepared to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work needed to address the problem. It’s time for our region – and the states that send us their smog pollution – to do the same for the District’s failing smog grade. We all should support strong smog standards so our kids can breathe easier.


TOPICS: Clean Air Rules and Regulations, EPA, Ozone, Washington DC