This post was written by Maureen Reno:
This past weekend I celebrated my daughter’s fourth birthday. My spouse and I did not host her party at a park, beach or in our backyard; we partied twenty-first century style – at an indoor playground. Most of the birthday parties my daughter attended this summer have been at indoor playgrounds. Why? According to the moms, the unbearable heat drives the party indoors.
Actually, we spent most of this summer indoors basking in our air conditioned house. It just seems as though the heat will not abate. In fact, NOAA recently announced that July 2012 was the hottest July since 1895, and this marked the end of the hottest 12-month period on record. Hot weather also brings poor outdoor air quality to New Hampshire.
NOAA has partnered with the Department of Environmental Protection (EPA), NPS, tribal, State, and local agencies to develop the AIRNow website, which reports that Merrimack County, NH experienced 59 days air quality action days in 2011. The air quality was unhealthy due to high concentrations of ground-level ozone during the summer, commonly referred to as smog, and fine particle pollution throughout the year. Ozone is a chemical reaction caused by nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In Hillsborough County, the most populated county in the state, only 2 days were deemed unsafe for sensitive individuals (children, older adults, anyone with asthma, lung disease, and people who are active outdoors). Just imagine the total tally of poor air quality days when AIRNow releases the data for 2012.
What is the value of the days we spend inside due to pollution induced smog?
A recent study by Michael Greenstone and other economists at MIT and UC Santa Barbara found that cutting pollution allows people to spend less on prescription drugs for cardiovascular and respiratory disease. In 2003, the EPA set up the NOx Budget Trading Program to reduce smog-forming compounds in certain regions. It managed to save lives and lead to lower spending on heart and respiratory medication. In the areas where NOx pollution dropped, drug spending declined by 1.9 percent, a value of $900 million per year.
Last year, President Obama nixed a proposal by the EPA to tighten ground-level ozone, stating that the costs of cleanup outweighed the health benefits from less smog. Yet Greenstone’s paper suggests the health benefits of curbing smog could be greater than anyone realizes.
We want our children to enjoy outside summertime parties!