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Trouble in the Air: Marylanders suffered through dozens of days with elevated air pollution in 2020

Particulate matter and ozone pollution are harmful to human health
For Immediate Release

BALTIMORE – The Baltimore Metropolitan Area, home to nearly 3 million people, experienced 43 days of elevated air pollution in 2020, according to a new report from Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and Maryland PIRG Foundation. Many metropolitan areas throughout Maryland faced similar levels of air pollution, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks, cancer and other adverse health impacts.

“Even one day of breathing in polluted air has negative consequences for our health,” said Emily Scarr, Director of Maryland PIRG Foundation. “More than a month of elevated air pollution is unacceptable and we need to do more to deliver cleaner air for our communities.” 

In the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2020, researchers reviewed Environmental Protection Agency air pollution records from across the country. The analysis, which looks at the most recent data available, focuses on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution, which are harmful pollutants that come primarily from burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline and methane gas, and from wildfires. 

Researchers also produced a digital map of bad air days across the country in 2020. With the COVID pandemic in full swing, last year included periods in which people spent more time at home and drove their gas-powered vehicles less -- yet bad air quality persisted. 

“One of the top sources of air pollution is transportation,” said Morgan Folger, Environment America Destination: Zero Carbon Director. “As our driving has picked up in 2021, you can be sure our vehicle pollution has kept pace. If we want to make a dent in these terrible numbers and save lives, we have got to wean ourselves off of burning fossil fuels to get around.”

While the report finds that air pollution problems persist, the solutions for cleaning our air are readily achievable. The report recommends that policymakers electrify our buildings, equipment and transportation; transition to clean renewable energy; and strengthen federal air quality standards. Congress is yet to finalize a bipartisan infrastructure bill that will jumpstart cleaner transportation projects, including $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations. Congress is also considering the Build Back Better Act, which could create even larger investments in climate solutions that can also clean our air.

“When the health of our children and grandparents are threatened, we do what it takes to save them,”  Scarr said. “Every Baltimorean should be able to breathe clean air. Our leaders need to act swiftly to zero out pollution from all aspects of our lives. When they do, we’ll all breathe easier.”

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Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment.

Maryland PIRG Foundation is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being. 

Frontier Group is a nonpartisan research and policy development center, providing information and ideas to help build a cleaner, healthier and more democratic America.

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