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Environmentby Fern Shen4:14 pmApr 19, 20230

Baltimore-Washington air pollution worsening, American Lung Association says

Unhealthy air days due to particle pollution have increased, and the area continues to earn a failing grade for ozone, a new report says

Above: Baltimore’s BRESCO trash incinerator towers over the Middle Branch in South Baltimore. (Mark Reutter)

Short-term and long-term particle pollution worsened in the Baltimore-Washington-Arlington metropolitan region, which continues to post a failing “F” grade for ozone smog, according to the American Lung Association.

Baltimore County fared particularly poorly in this year’s State of the Air report, displacing Harford County as the worst county in the metro area for health-harming ozone, which develops in the atmosphere from the gases released by tailpipes, smokestacks and other combustion sources.

The county had 20 Code Orange ozone days in the 2019-2021 period covered in the report.

“As we can see from this year’s data, there is much work to be done in the Washington-Baltimore-Arlington area to improve our air quality,” said Aleks Casper, the association’s regional advocacy director.

“Even one poor air quality day is one too many for our residents at highest risk, such as children, older adults, individuals who are pregnant and those living with chronic disease,” Casper said in a statement accompanying the report.

“That’s why we are calling on lawmakers at the local, state and federal levels to take action to ensure that everyone has clean air to breathe.”

Poorly timed traffic lights - and long waits until they change - are a chronic complaint from Baltimore drivers. (Fern Shen)

Backed-up traffic on Cold Spring Lane in North Baltimore. Vehicle and industrial emissions are the region’s chief sources of ozone pollution. (Fern Shen)

Fine Particles and Smog

The report tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution that can be extremely dangerous and even deadly, especially for those with respiratory conditions.

Posting slight increases in the number of these unhealthy days, the region received a “C” grade. The average annual weighted number of high particle days in the area registered at 1.8 days, up from 1 day the previous year.

Overall particulate concentrations were up slightly as well. The annual average concentration of particulates was 8.8 micrograms per cubic meter, up from 8.7 micrograms per cubic meter.

While meeting the national standard, the region ranked 62nd worst nationally for fine particle pollution.

Nationally, the report said, fine particulate pollution increased dramatically, especially in Western states increasingly stricken with wildfires.

Area ozone levels, meanwhile remained stubbornly high, with the Baltimore-Washington region continuing to receive a failing “F” grade.

With ozone levels decreasing elsewhere, the metro area’s rank worsened from 30th to 26th most polluted metropolitan area in the nation for ozone.

Anne Arundel, Harford and Prince George’s counties joined Baltimore County in earning ‘F’ grades.

ALA air quality report 2023 pollution

High ozone days in Maryland, according to the American Lung Association’s 2023 “State of the Air” report. It noted that Maryland reports data for only 15 out of 24 counties. Counties with no ozone data are not shown. (lung.org)

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