Groups to EGLE: Count ALL smog to save lives

Not counting pollution from wildfires hurts public health and is unjust

A group of 13 organizations urged the state to protect West Michiganders from the heart and lung diseases smog exacerbates in a recent public comment filing.

The group, led by the Michigan Environmental Council, urged the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) to allow Allegan, Berrien and parts of Muskegon counties' ozone (aka, smog) air readings to stand as recorded. Readings exceed safe smog levels for public health and, as such, would make the areas fail to meet air pollution standards. 

The three counties in question have experienced smog levels above the current standard since 2005. But EGLE contends that if not for five days of high smog due to wildfires out west, Allegan and Berrien counties would need no stricter air controls than they already have. Under Environmental Protection Agency standards, wildfires can be discounted from pollution standard determinations because they are "exceptional events."

If EGLE discounts these days, the Department could end efforts to lower smog pollution in Allegan, Berrien and Muskegon counties.

“Smog can exacerbate lung and heart diseases and puts everyone’ s health at risk," said Tina Reynolds, environmental health program director for MEC. “If EGLE chooses to make good on its environmental justice focus, we can cut missed work days, increase school attendance and put the ‘pure’ back into ‘Pure Michigan' by protecting vacationers in west Michigan. 

She noted that climate change makes wildfires more intense and common and should thus not be considered extraordinary.

"Counting days of western U.S. wildfires as extraordinary events so we can disregard health-harming smog readings would set a bad precedent across Michigan and the nation," Reynolds said. "This is a crossroads moment and our decision makers need to do the right thing by proactively improving the air we need to breathe with public health measures."

An American Thoracic Society report found smog pollution alone killed an estimated 12 residents, gravely sickened 19 and caused 24,429 missed school and work days in  Allegan, Berrien and Muskegon counties in 2019. Kindra Weid, RN, coalition coordinator for MI Air MI Health, said these numbers will grow if pollution protections are eased.

"We know air pollution travels, but that should not be used as a rationale for disqualifying days of high smog," Weid said. "The purpose of these standards is to protect the environment and public health where it is harmed. The impacts of air pollution are a clear and present danger to the residents of West Michigan, and stricter enforcement is required. EGLE has a chance to protect public health and fight climate change with one action: counting all days with smog."

These groups joined MEC and MI Air MI Health in submitting public comment: Environmental Law & Policy Center, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, Liaison for Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation, MI Air MI Health, Michigan Clinicians for Climate Action, The Original United Citizens of Southwest Detroit, Principia LLC, Reviving Our American Democracy, West Michigan Environmental Action Council and Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition.

Download the report here

Download a one-page explainer here

By Beau Brockett Jr.