The DMV area, home to over 6 million people, suffered through 86 days of poor air quality due to air pollution in 2018, according to a new report from Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

Statistics from 2018 represent the most recent data available. Air pollution increases the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts, according to the new report.

“No Virginian should have to experience one day of polluted air -- let alone 86 days,” said Ellie Reynolds, Clean Cars Fellow with Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center. “Air quality will only get worse as our climate warms, so we have no time to lose. We must make progress toward clean air.”

For the report, “Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2018,” researchers reviewed Environmental Protection Agency air pollution records from across the country. The report focuses on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution, which are harmful pollutants that come from burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline, Natural Gas and from other sources.

“I treat the sickest patients in the community daily. When I discharge them, I tell myself that they are going home to heal. Yet, every lung disease in my patients is made worse by air pollution, both indoor and outdoor,” said Dr. Krupal Shah, Hospitalist at the Inova Fairfax Hospital and member of Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action. “This pollution is worst near communities of color and lower income neighborhoods. When my patients get sick again, they almost always get readmitted to the hospital at great cost to our health system. It makes both ethical and financial sense for us to rapidly identify and systematically address pollution sources in our communities.”

The report’s findings come at a time when the federal government is considering dismantling protections under the Clean Air Act.

“The data show that America’s existing air quality standards aren’t doing enough to protect our health,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. "As the climate warms, higher temperatures and more severe wildfires increase air pollution and the threat to human health," said Ridlington.

Recommendations in the report include calling on policymakers at all levels of government to reduce emissions from transportation, support clean renewable energy, and expand climate-friendly transportation options with more transit, bike lanes and walkways. The study also calls on the federal government to strengthen ozone and particulate pollution standards, and support strong clean car standards instead of rolling them back.

“Instead of undermining clean air protections, our government -- at all levels -- should be taking every opportunity to clean up the air we breathe,” said Reynolds. “Since transportation is the most polluting sector of our economy, we need to transition to electric cars, buses and transit.”

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