Down East families need national air quality standards



To the Editor:

Down East families need national air quality standards that give our kids a healthy chance to succeed.

Here in Hancock and Washington counties, nine percent of children under the age of 18 have asthma. That means that on any given school day, one out of 11 students at Elm Street School in East Machias, George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill or Shead High School in Eastport is at risk for missing a math test, a ball game or band practice because of an asthma attack.

The impacts of asthma in our region also go well beyond the school setting. According to the Maine CDC, one out of nine adults in Hancock and Washington counties reports having asthma, which is much higher than the national average. And each year, over 650 emergency department visits in our region are due to asthma. When compared to overall population, this is also significantly higher than the rate for all of Maine.

As public health professionals for Healthy Acadia and Washington County: One Community, serving Hancock and Washington counties, we are very concerned about the impacts of air pollution on our communities.

The health effects of air pollution can range from shortness of breath, to asthma attacks, to life-threatening heart attacks. Illness and poor health lead to missed days of school and work, as well as increased costs of health care for families and local businesses. These lost days of education and exercise, lost productivity and higher health care costs are shared by the entire community – everyone is affected, and we must work together to solve it.

By now, we’ve all heard that “Maine is the tailpipe of the nation” because we are breathing the air that travels here from states to the south and west of us.

The American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report consistently shows southern, coastal and Down East Maine have the highest numbers of unhealthy air days every year.

Hancock and York counties each received a “D” on last year’s report card due to our high number of unhealthy ozone days.

Ozone, also called smog, is particularly dangerous for children, seniors and people with asthma and other lung diseases, but even healthy adults who work or exercise outdoors can be harmed by breathing ozone.

Our nation’s ozone pollution standard has been out of date for many years, giving us a false sense of security about when the air is safe to breathe.

The good news is that last month, the Environmental protection Agency (EPA), the federal agency established to monitor and enforce the Clean Air Act, proposed a new ozone standard that will make the air healthier to breathe. A stronger standard will reduce pollution flowing into Maine from other states and give parents and seniors more accurate information about when and where there is unhealthy air.

The comment period for the new ozone standard ends March 17. As one of the regions most at risk in Maine and the nation, we owe it to our kids and our local economies to weigh in and support of science-based standards. Anyone can share their thoughts with the EPA by going to their website.

The sun rises here, and the nation’s air settles here. That’s why Washington and Hancock counties understand better than most the need for strong national air standards.

In 2015, Senators Collins and King and Representatives Poliquin and Pingree will face difficult choices. Proposals are being introduced to weaken the Clean Air Act and undermine the important monitoring and enforcement functions of the EPA. Let’s join together and tell them that Maine’s Down East counties are not interested in rollbacks that put our kids, our seniors and our local businesses at risk, all for the benefit of out-of-state polluters.

Elsie Flemings

Executive Director

Healthy Acadia

Ellsworth

Eleody Libby

Executive Director

Washington County: One Community

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