Denizens of pretty-much-perfect Northern Virginia might be alarmed to hear that their wonderland of neatly trimmed lawns and cupcake-slinging food trucks lies under a pall of nastiness. Thanks in large part to all the drivers on the Beltway, above D.C. hovers a thick, choking layer of smog that made nearly a month's worth of days this summer hazardous to breathe in.
That's according to a new report by Environment Virginia, whose members had a sit down in Arlington today to share their findings with Congressman Jim Moran and Virginia Delegate Patrick Hope. The report puts U.S. cities in order of how many poor air-quality days they had in 2010 and 2011, and Arlington, Fairfax, Alexandria and other Virginia burbs (along with D.C.... and Baltimore!) are right up there with top smog offenders like Los Angeles and Atlanta.
The environmental group uses a slightly unorthodox methodology. While the EPA's smog standards state that ozone levels are potentially dangerous when they exceed 75 parts per billion, Environment Virginia counted days when the levels ranged above 60 ppb, because that's "a level that scientists agree is more protective of public health," the group says. Using that definition, the group found that D.C.-area residents breathed in dangerous amounts of pollution on 33 days last year and 28 days this summer. (The heat wave was a particularly polluted time.) That's not great because, as the EPA says:
Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. "Bad" ozone also can reduce lung function and inflame the linings of the lungs. Repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissue.
Children and the elderly are particularly affected by smog. Because many of these days fell just below the EPA's current 75 ppb standard, sensitive people would not have known about the foulness in the air from the standard National Weather Service alerts. The report comes just weeks after President Obama decided to delay tightening the nation's smog standards in light of stiff Republican opposition. Here are some specific findings: