SILVER SPRING – Montgomery County had so many high-ozone-level days during 2015 to 2017 that the American Lung Association gave it a “D” grade in its newly-released Annual State of the Air report.
In the previous report, the county received a “C” grade.
There were seven days during those three years when the ozone level was rated orange, which means unhealthy for people in sensitive groups, including those with asthma, bronchitis and other breathing diseases and those who are very young or very old.
“Ozone especially harms children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” according to Kevin Stewart, the American Lung Association’s director of environmental health for advocacy and public policy.
County Councilman Gabe Albornoz, who chairs the county’s Health and Human Services Committee, said the low grade did not surprise him. “I believe it’s accurate, and it’s very alarming,” he said.
The county needs to reduce its carbon footprint both in the short and long term, Albornoz said.
He urged residents to drink plenty of fluids on days of particularly high pollution and to exercise either early in the morning or late in the day.
Cleaning the air “is going to take a long-term effort,” he said.
County officials and residents need to turn to electric vehicles, minimize their energy use and look into using solar energy, Albornoz said.
“There is no one easy answer to this,” he said, adding, “It has to be a regional approach.”
A regional approach is needed, because the ozone pollution was even worse in the Washington-Baltimore area, according to the report, which rated that large area an “F.”
The grading is based on federal EPA standards.
Both Montgomery County and the greater Washington-Baltimore area had more bad-air days than they did during the American Lung Association’s previous report.
While seven bad days in three years may not sound horrible, Stewart pointed out, “Even one bad day can be one day too much” for those with breathing problems. A bad day could send them to the hospital, he said.
“If you add all those people up, you are talking like half the population,” he said of those who suffer with lung issues.
For those without problems, smoggy and sooty days can reduce their stamina, he said. People may “not run as fast, play as hard,” he explained.
“We don’t want anyone to panic, but we do want people to realize the air quality is not where it is supposed to be, especially if you are in one of the sensitive groups.”
In its report, the American Lung Association suggests that to help make the air cleaner, people should drive less, use less electricity and not burn wood or trash.
The national ambient air quality for ozone is 70 parts per billion, measured over an eight-hour period. During the seven orange days here, the level reached between 71 and 85 parts per billion.
Of the 802 counties that the American Lung Association monitored throughout the country, 549 received a higher grade than Montgomery County, Stewart said.
The county is working with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments on a regional approach to improve air quality, said Stan Edwards, the county’s chief of the division of Environmental Policy and Compliance.
In the American Lung Association’s 1997 to 1999 report, the county’s annual weighted average of high-ozone days was 56 days. In the current report, that number only is 3.2 days.
The highest ozone levels here are due to exhaust from a vehicle’s tailpipe and hot temperatures, Edwards noted.