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Taylor Hale,
Environment Missouri

St. Louisans at risk with 69 dirty air days in 2015

For Immediate Release

St. Louis, MO– Air pollution remains a major threat to our health, according to a new report from Environment Missouri Research & Policy Center, Our Health at Risk: Why Are Millions of Americans Still Breathing Unhealthy Air?  In 2015, people in St. Louis, MO-IL experienced 69 unhealthy air pollution days from smog, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts. St. Louis also experienced 202 days with elevated particulate matter pollution.

“Even one day with unhealthy air is too many,” said Taylor Hale, campaign organizer with Environment Missouri.

The report comes during National Public Health Week, a celebration of efforts to tackle the underlying causes of disease – like air pollution – and ensure that all people have a chance to live long and healthy lives.

Although our air is less polluted than it was 30 years ago, dirty air is still a major health problem. Despite that fact, President Trump is taking an axe to important programs that could help clean up our air. In just the last month, the Trump Administration has:

  • Instructed the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, the largest step the United States has ever taken to cut dangerous global warming pollution;
  • Proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, a “get out of jail free card” for polluters;
  • Instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back federal clean cars standards that were supposed to prevent 6 billion metric tons of global warming pollution; and
  • Told the Department of Interior to rewrite air pollution regulations for oil and gas drilling.

These actions will have significant health impacts. Blocking the Clean Power Plan alone will slow progress in cleaning our air – leading to 3,600 additional premature deaths, 90,000 more asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 more missed work and school days by 2030.

Our Health at Risk reviews EPA records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and soot – dangerous pollutants that come from burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Key findings include:

  • People in St. Louis, MO-IL experienced 202 days with elevated soot pollution in 2015 and 69 days with elevated smog pollution.
  • St. Louis ranked 6th in the Nation for worst soot pollution in 2015, and 67th for smog pollution.
  • Across Missouri, 15 cities had unhealthy levels of air pollution on at least 7 of days during 2015, including St. Louis, Kansas City, Jefferson City, Columbia, and Springfield.

Many Missourians may be exposed to air pollution even more severe than described here because they live in local pollution “hotspots,” such as near freeways, airports and industrial facilities – facing greater health impacts. For example, people who live near highly traveled roads are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, and at greater risk of death from stroke, lung disease and heart disease.

The health impacts of dirty air go beyond Missouri’s metro areas.  “While urban centers tend to be more impacted by poor air quality and have the greatest risk of health effects”, noted Christopher King, Professor in the College of Public Health and Social Justice at Saint Louis University and Director of the Center for Environmental Education & Training. “Small communities and rural areas are not immune; they can also be impacted by poor air quality.” This is an issue affecting all of Missouri.

“There's no safe level of exposure to smog and particulate pollution,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, “Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. "Elevated levels of air pollution – even levels the federal government says are safe for most people – hurt our health.” 

“And it’s not just soot and smog,” said Taylor Hale. “We also have to worry about global warming pollution. Warming is extending the smog season across more of the year, and driving up smog levels on hot days. Along with drought, warming is also making wildfires more frequent and intense – causing additional pollution that can travel hundreds of miles.

We need to shift away from fuels that cause air pollution – like coal and gas. We can clean our air by moving to 100 percent clean, renewable energy across our whole society.”

On a local level, funds can be allocated to clean up our air and protect our health. “Earlier this week St. Louisians authorized a use tax that will generate $4 million per year to be used in part on public health” explained Alderwomen Megan Green. “As we recognize Public Health week, we need to be ready to hold City Hall accountable to use these new funds in ways that will produce positive health outcomes for City residents.”

Speakers also urged Missouri’s elected leaders to stand up to attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act, to maintain the strength of the nation’s Clean Car Standards, and to accelerate our transition to clean energy.

“In the face of reckless and dangerous actions from the Trump Administration on clean air, Senators McCaskill and Blunt must stand up for our health,” concluded Hale. “We urge our senators to defend clean air safeguards and clean cars standards so that dirty air days can become a thing of the past.”

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Environment Missouri Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization. We are dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit http://environmentmissouricenter.org