BOSTON – Boston-area residents suffered through 19 days of elevated air pollution in 2020, according to a new report from Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and MASSPIRG Education Fund. Greenfield- and Worcester-area residents fared even worse, with 50 days and 46 days of elevated air pollution, respectively. Air pollution increases the risk of premature death, asthma attacks, cancer and other adverse health impacts.
“Even one day of breathing in polluted air is dangerous for our health,” said Hanna Nuttall, clean energy associate for Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center. “50 days is unacceptable and we need to do more to deliver cleaner air for our communities.”
In the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2020, researchers reviewed Environmental Protection Agency air pollution records from across the country. The analysis, which looks at the most recent data available, focuses on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution, which are harmful pollutants that come primarily from burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline and methane gas, and from wildfires.
Researchers also produced a digital map of bad air days across the country in 2020. With the COVID pandemic in full swing, last year included periods in which people spent more time at home and drove their gas-powered vehicles less -- yet bad air quality persisted.
“One of the top sources of air pollution is automobiles,” said Janet Domenitz, executive director for MASSPIRG. “As our driving has picked up in 2021, you can be sure our vehicle pollution has kept pace. If we want to make a dent in these terrible numbers and save lives, we have got to wean ourselves off of burning fossil fuels to get around.”
While the report finds that air pollution problems persist, the solutions for cleaning our air are readily achievable. The report recommends that policymakers electrify our buildings, equipment and transportation; transition to clean renewable energy; and strengthen federal air quality standards. Congress is considering a bipartisan infrastructure bill that will jumpstart cleaner transportation projects, including $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations. Congress is also considering the Build Back Better Act, which could create even larger investments in climate solutions that can also clean our air.
Massachusetts could also act to minimize air pollution. The 100% Clean Act (H.3288), filed by Rep. Marjorie Decker and Rep. Sean Garballey, would transition Massachusetts to 100% clean electricity by 2035 and 100% clean heating and transportation by 2045. Nine other states have already passed legislative commitments to 100% clean electricity, but Massachusetts would be the first state to commit to 100% clean heating and transportation as well. In addition to protecting public health from harmful pollution, these commitments would also eliminate the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts.