With start of summer, 'Breathe Easy' campaign urges public to consider air quality, public health

Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles speaks at the nonprofit Clean Air Partners' launch of its "Breathe Easy" campaign Thursday at Federal Hill Park.
Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles speaks at the nonprofit Clean Air Partners' launch of its "Breathe Easy" campaign Thursday at Federal Hill Park. (Jonas Shaffer / Baltimore Sun)

The nonprofit Clean Air Partners chose a fitting venue for the launch of its “Breathe Easy” campaign Thursday.

Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles explained how a colleague used to stand where he did, at the edge of Federal Hill Park, overlooking Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and see the pollution looming over the cityscape.


Del. Luke H. Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat, remembered “just bad” air quality at the park.

And Clair Wayner, a recent graduate of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, shared her mother and grandmother’s since-retired description of the waterfront: “an industrial dumping ground.”


But at a morning event held to raise awareness of how everyday actions affect air quality and public health, the only thing obscuring the view of the city was a light mist.

“It is so important to remember that clear air is health care,” Grumbles said, “and that what we do to clean the air individually and collectively, through community efforts and working with business and power plants to reduce pollution from tailpipes and smokestacks, makes a difference.”

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a power plant emissions-capping program that includes Maryland, has generated $4 billion in net economic activity, even accounting for the costs it has added to electricity, a study has found.

Under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a 10-state program that works to limit pollution by establishing a cap on the amount of carbon dioxide pollution that fossil fuel-fired power plants can generate, Maryland has made “real progress,” Grumbles said.

But with the start of summer Thursday, ground-level ozone pollution is likely to rise along with temperatures in the coming months, leading to poor air quality. Dr. Janet Phoenix, an assistant research professor of health policy and management at George Washington University, said ground-level ozone can reduce lung function by about 20 percent.

About 500,000 adults and 200,000 children in the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area suffer from a respiratory disease, Phoenix said, and those living closer to heavily trafficked transportation corridors “are more adversely affected than others.”

“Unfortunately, air quality doesn’t evenly distribute itself across cities and across this region,” she said.

The “Breathe Easy” campaign encourages residents to help reduce ground-level ozone by using public transit, carpooling, refueling automobiles after dusk during the summer and turning off electronics when not in use, among other suggestions.

A state renewable energy program is sending millions of dollars of ratepayer subsidies to Baltimore's biggest polluter, the Wheelabrator incinerator. Community activists in South Baltimore are trying to increase recycling to essentially put the incinerator out of business.

Officials also urged residents to become personally engaged, as Wayner had. After determining that Poly’s largest polluters were the buses idling near the school, she and other members of Poly’s Environmental Club wrote to the Maryland Transit Administration, advocating for “cleaner school air.”

“Now is when it matters most when it comes to ozone,” Grumbles said. “When the summer heat is on its way, this is when these choices make the biggest difference and the biggest positive impact for public health.”

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