Environmental Group Sounds Alarm About N. Va. Smog

by ARLnow.com September 22, 2011 at 2:32 pm 3,375 28 Comments

Northern Virginia and the rest of the D.C. region ranks as the 6th smoggiest metropolitan area in the country, according to a new report by the group Environment America.

Northern Virginia residents were exposed to “dangerous” levels of smog on 33 days last year, the report said. There were also “3 ‘red-alert’ days, when the air quality was so poor that anyone could experience adverse health effects,” according to a press release.

The report was released locally by Environment America offshoot Environment Virginia. Rep. Jim Moran and Del. Patrick Hope were among the speakers at a press conference yesterday at the Langston-Brown Community Center in Arlington.

Environmental Virginia spokeswoman Sarah Hyman said the report is troubling for local residents — particularly children and the elderly, who are a higher risk of adverse health effects from air pollution.

“Virginians deserve clean air. But on far too many days, people in the D.C. Metro area, including Northern Virginia, are exposed to dangerous smog pollution,” Hyman said. “For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.”

Hyman went on to criticize the Obama administration’s decision to put off updating the Environmental Protection Agency’s national smog pollution standards until at least 2013.

“We must make every day a safe day to breathe,” Hyman said. “Unfortunately, rather than acting decisively to protect our kids from dangerous air pollution, President Obama chose to kick the can down the road. Virginia’s kids, senior citizens and those suffering from respiratory problems will suffer as a consequence and certainly deserve better.”

An American Lung Association study released in April said the D.C. area has the 14th worst smog levels in the country.

Photo courtesy Anne Hughes/Office of Rep. Jim Moran

  • G

    They always seem to worry about the children and elderly, but another group we normally don’t consider “sensitive” are those who exercise outdoors on a daily basis. Arlington encourages us to bike to work, to run errands, etc, but those of us who commute to work by bike or running, are exposed to a lot more ozone and particulates than the general population. Not only are more vehicles on the road during rush hours but we have a higher breathing rate during exercise, so we are taking in more of this crap. In my opinion, I’ll take a long line of small cars as opposed to a single school bus or shuttle bus driving by any day. The exhaust from trucks and buses linger along the road and sidewalk for several hundred meters after passing by.

    • G

      Until public transportation becomes a more attractive option than driving, this problem will not go away. At my company for example we get a subsidy to park, but not to take public transit… so it’s actually cheaper (and more convenient) for us to drive if we live somewhat close to work.

    • drax

      Yet the long line of cars produces alot more harmful exhaust, especially if the bus is actually one of the natural gas buses we have.

      • G

        the NG buses are fine… I’m referring to the shuttle buses, school buses, and other large trucks.

        • drax

          Sure, trucks, and some buses, might put out more smog per person than cars, but for the most part, you’d be breathing more crap from a long line of cars even if you don’t realize it.

          • Greg

            I doubt this. You gotta source?

          • Thes

            This website (also un-sourced) claims that one big truck can pollute as much as 150 cars.

          • If you are talking particulates, and the truck is an older diesel, sure. Otherwise, I don’t buy it. Besides, who else is going to bring in the cupcake ingredients to satisfy Arlingtonians? Can we stuff all those ingredients into 149 cars?

          • Greg

            Yeah. I don’t know about 150, but my guess would be that trucks are worse for a biker than a line of cars (keep in mind that a line of cars in DC means 10 or so because you’re limited by block length).

            You’d have to ride a bike to understand G’s comment, but a big truck or bus feels like it is going to choke you out. Cars don’t have that affect.

          • drax

            Yes, it FEELS like a truck is worse when you’re on a bike. I’m just saying that alot of cars put out more crap in total than one bus. I don’t know exactly how many cars it takes, but you get the point.

          • Greg

            I still don’t accept what you’re saying on faith. Do cars emit visible smoke? They don’t if they passed Virginia emissions. How much more particulate matter is released by a truck vs. a car? Is a small quantity of exhaust pipe CO, CO2, etc. over a city block more harmful than a large dose of particulate matter right in your face?

            If you’re saying that that it takes 100+ cars to equal one truck, I’d say G’s initial point is correct. Where are you passing a line of 150 cars?

            Like I said, if you have a source, I’d be interested in seeing it because it does mean something to me as a biker.

            But I’ve got a sense that this is just a stupid Internet conversation where you were originally talking out of your butt and continue to respond with variations on your initial point because you just can’t admit it.

          • drax

            It depends on alot of factors, of course.


            In Arlington, alot of the buses are NG or clean diesel, which is MUCH better than the old diesels.

          • R.Griffon

            And even old diesels have to burn the new ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel. I have no idea what the pollution ratio is for “average” diesel trucks vs. cars, but they shouldn’t be the black smoke spewing monsters of yesteryear.

    • They do worry about children and the elderly more, and they should. They are more at risk. Children are not as developed as a healthy adult, and the elderly have deteriorating bodys. If you are a healthy adult who is active and in good shape then these days won’t effect you to the level they will those at risk. The alerts begin when things impact the weakest among us.

  • Andrew

    I thought Arlington was the second best city to live?

    • drax

      So is this going to be the standard comment for every story that says anything negative about Arlington? It will be almost as funny as “won’t someone think of the children?”!

    • R.Griffon

      It IS. That just tells you how crappy it is to live anywhere else.

      Interestingly enough, air quality WAS one of the factors used in compiling that list. Arlington air may not be the cleanest, but the other factors more than make up for it.

  • Skeptical

    Tell me about it. I don’t get colds, I mean for years on end I don’t get them, but this summer’s bad air quality streak left me coughing up stuff that looked like it came from a B-horror movie.

  • JamesE

    #1 for Smug

    • Lou

      That’s the biggest polluter around here if you as me. Which nobody did.

  • Aaron

    Despite a solid month of record-sharttering heat, we only ended up with 3 red-alert days? Sounds like we’re doing pretty darn good! Someone fire up that coal plant again!

    • drax

      Yes, “only” three days when it was dangerous to even breathe. That’s awesome!

      • There are two levels above “red” in the EPA air quality index. None of them have a description of “dangerous”.

        • drax

          So “dangerous” is a bad term for them? I don’t think so.

      • JimPB

        “Dangerous air pollution” is not a discrete thing that you have or don’t have like, e.g., you have or don’t have a strep infection.

        The cut point for “dangerous air pollution” is an arbitrary point on a continuum that hopefully reflects to some extent the degree of risk. This is like the “cut point” for hypertension and for hypercholesterolemia.

        Less is often better. For lead, there is meaningful risk for a lower IQ among young children who are exposed to even minute amounts of lead, so there really is no safe level of lead exposure for them — No lead exposure is definitely best. This could well be true as well for exposure
        to “air pollution” (the removal of lead from gasoline has largely eliminated this potent source of exposure to lead).

  • JimPB

    We don’t have any industry to speak o,f so where does the air pollution come from? Do we get “blow-ins” of pollution from other parts of the country? Of course, there’s our vehicles. Probably the major factor.
    But regulation and periodic emission inspections have reduced the polluting emissions of individual cars. Is the air pollution emitted by modern passenger cars, while small, sufficient, when there are a vast number of cars, to contribute meaningfully to air pollution?

    Are trucks and buses subject to the same pollution reduction rules? My eyes and olfactory sense suggests that they are not. Has the Obama administration tightened down on truck and bus air pollution?

    Natural gas powered vehicles can emit a distinct odor, but what about air polluting emissions?

    Is the amount of air pollution arising from passenger car vehicles inversely related to mpg, i.e., less pollution the higher the mpg?

    Electric or hybrid vehicles should substantially reduce if not come close to eliminating the air pollution that a bicyclist reported above when he pedaled past stopped vehicles.

    Several decades ago Hechinger Sr. wrote an co-od piece for the WPost in which he advocated making Metro a truly public transit system. The keystone of this was to reduce the fares to a flat 50 cents and to increase the government support. The problem now is that at rush hour Metrotrain is straining to accommodate the passenger load. WIthout a lowering of its fares, NYC’s transit system has become a capacity filled system 24/7.

    How do we move ahead to healthier air and enabling necessary and wanted mobility?

    • Arl 2

      Answer: More trees.

  • YTK

    Yes, the smog and the pollution is from the COUNTLESS MORE cars and trucks traveling thru this area and the MANY new hi-rises that belch out their heat into the atmosphere.

    AND there’s MORE — wheee!! look for a brown haze over the major arteries every morning- and evening– can’t miss it.


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