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Holly Seymour,
Environment Montana

Montana’s health at risk from bad air days

For Immediate Release

Missoula – Air pollution remains a major threat to our health, according to a new report from Environment Montana Research & Policy Center, Our Health at Risk: Why Are Millions of Americans Still Breathing Unhealthy Air? In 2015, people here in Montana experienced numerous unhealthy air pollution days, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts.

“Even one day with unhealthy air is too many,” said Holly Seymour, Environment MT organizer.

“Burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and gas threatens our health,” added Seymour. “It’s time to shift to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.”

The report comes during National Public Health Week, a celebration of efforts to tackle the underlying causes of disease – like air pollution – and ensure that all people have a chance to live long and healthy lives.

Although our air is less polluted than it was 30 years ago, dirty air is still a major health problem. Despite that fact, President Trump is taking an axe to important programs that could help clean up our air. In just the last month, the Trump Administration has:

  • Instructed the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, the largest step the United States has ever taken to cut dangerous global warming pollution;

  • Proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, a “get out of jail free card” for polluters;

  • Instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back federal clean cars standards that were supposed to prevent 6 billion metric tons of global warming pollution; and

  • Told the Department of Interior to rewrite air pollution regulations for oil and gas drilling.

These actions will have significant health impacts. Blocking the Clean Power Plan alone will slow progress in cleaning our air – leading to 3,600 additional premature deaths, 90,000 more asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 more missed work and school days by 2030.

“Going backwards on clean air is reckless and wrong,” said Environment Montana director Skye Borden. “We should be doing more to clean up pollution and develop clean energy, not less.”

Our Health at Risk reviews EPA records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and soot – dangerous pollutants that come from burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Key findings include:

  • Two counties in Montana – Ravalli and Lincoln – were among the ten worst rural counties in the nation in terms of particulate matter pollution  

  • Missoula experienced 112 days with elevated soot pollution.

  • Across Montana, 5 cities and 6 counties had unhealthy levels of air pollution on at least 17 days during 2015. Many of these areas, including Butte, Helena, and Kalispell, had more than 75 unhealthy days.

Most of Montana’s worst air quality days were caused by particulate matter from nearby wildfires. Although 2015 was a difficult year for wildfires, many scientists predict that Montanans will face even greater challenges in the years ahead.

“It’s not just soot and smog that we need to worry about,” said Seymour. “We also have to worry about global warming pollution. Warming is extending the length and severity of wildfire season, and driving up the risks associated with wildfire pollution.”

Since 1980, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the number of large wildfires and the length of wildfire season has increased significantly in the Western US. Climate change is driving these increases through rising temperatures, which leave trees vulnerable to pine beetles and cause snow to melt sooner and faster.

Speakers urged Montana’s elected leaders to stand up to attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act, to maintain the strength of the nation’s Clean Car Standards, and to accelerate our transition to clean energy. In 2010 alone, these protections saved 160,000 lives, prevented 130,000 heart attacks and avoided 41,000 hospital admissions across America

“To protect our health, we must keep cutting soot, smog and carbon pollution,” said Seymour. “We must accelerate our progress, not hit the brakes.”

“In the face of reckless and dangerous actions from the Trump Administration on clean air, Senators Tester and Daines must stand up for our health. We urge our senators to defend clean air safeguards and clean cars standards so that dirty air days can become a thing of the past.”

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Environment Montana Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization. We are dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit www.environmentmontanacenter.org.