Lung Association urges tougher air standards


AUGUSTA – The American Lung Association of Maine issued a report Thursday critical of proposed federal standards for soot and smog, which could lead to underreporting of dangerous air quality days in Lewiston, Rumford and other communities.

The study found that the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed standards would give 13 communities where air quality is monitored in the state a clean bill of health. Under the Lung Association’s benchmarks, all 13 – including Lewiston, Rumford, Portland and Augusta – would have days with unhealthy air.

If the EPA’s standard is applied, Maine would have no fine-particle pollution, the report said. Under the Lung Association standard, virtually the entire state would be considered at risk.

“It would be as if the federal government redefined obesity at such a high level that no one was considered obese and then everyone stopped looking at scales,” Miller said.

Miller compared fine-particle pollution, which includes smog and soot, to second-hand smoke before its dangers were fully understood.

“Fine-particle pollution is a lot bigger problem then we’ve thought. It started out as a mere nuisance and then we started to understand just how dangerous it is.”

Soot and smog can cause serious health problems, especially for children and the elderly and for people with chronic lung and heart diseases, the Lung Association said. Fine-particle pollution is a respiratory irritant and can impair lung function.

There are two types of pollution discussed in the report, ozone and fine-particle pollution. Ozone is the most widely studied outdoor air pollutant in Maine and nationally. Fine-particle pollution is only recently beginning to be understood.

Maine’s air quality follows a predictable pattern. Ozone is typically a summer problem, with health warnings issued about one day out of five between April 1 and Sept. 30.

Fine-particle pollution has both a summer and a winter peak. Tracking dangerous levels of fine particles, the report says, is where proposed EPA air quality standards fail to protect public health. According to the report, the standards seriously under-represent the severity of air pollution in Maine, lessen the chances for enactment of adequate pollution control measures and reduce the case for continued air-quality monitoring.

Coal-fired power plants, factories and car emissions are the major sources of fine particle pollution in the atmosphere.

Dr. Sydney Sewall, an Augusta pediatrician, helped present the Lung Association report Thursday. He said he’s seen many times when children have come to him with serious trouble breathing but no air quality warning was issued for the day.

“While the EPA might not believe there are health effects below their proposed standard, my patients know differently,” Sewall said in a prepared statement.