Code Red Air Quality Days in Washington DC Reinforces Need for Protections Against Harmful Air Pollution

EPA needs to strengthen, not weaken clean air protections across the country


David Baron / Jared Saylor, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments predicts today to be the year’s first Code Red day for air quality in the Washington and Baltimore regions. Code Red days are called when there is a significant threat of unhealthy air due to pollution and weather conditions. People are warned to limit their outdoor activities, with children, senior citizens and asthmatics especially at risk. Today’s forecast predicts unsafe levels of ozone, the main component of smog. 

While millions of Americans are being forced to breathe dirty air, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has actually weakened protections against harmful smog levels. Earthjustice, joined by other environmental groups and several states, have sued to overturn EPA rules that relax anti-pollution requirements. 

In 1997, EPA adopted a new smog standard that was supposed to provide greater protection for public health. But the new standard was stalled by industry court challenges, and EPA only started to implement it in the last two years. Unfortunately, EPA’s implementing rules actually weaken several key anti-smog requirements, even though the new standard is supposed to be more protective. Earthjustice contends that this backward approach threatens public health and violates the Clean Air Act.

“Something is very wrong when the air is so dirty that kids are warned to limit playing outside,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “On days like today, when the heat is turned up and the air is stagnant, ozone is a serious health threat. To protect people’s lungs, we need stronger limits on pollution from factories, power plants, and dirty diesels. Without strong enough anti-smog measures, today’s Code Red day will not be the last.”

Ozone is associated with increased asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing, and aggravation of other respiratory illnesses. Higher smog levels in a region are frequently accompanied by increased hospitalization and emergency room visits for respiratory disorders.

According to the Metropolitan Washington council of Government, “The Air Quality Index (AQI) is an index used for reporting forecasted and daily air quality. The AQI uses both a color-coded and numerical scale to report how clean or polluted the air is and what associated health effects might be of concern. The AQI focuses on health effects people may experience within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air.” More information about the region’s air quality can be found on their website.

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