Public health win: State will continuing fighting smog in West Michigan
Michigan's environmental department will continue reducing air pollution levels in three West Michigan counties, a great move for the hearts and lungs of their residents.
The decision was made by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy (EGLE) on Nov. 3 for Allegan and Berrien counties and part of Muskegon County. Each area registers high levels of ozone, a dangerous pollutant also known as smog that is often created by fossil fuel pollution and wildfires.
EGLE had initially considered submitting a request to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that could have delayed work to improve air quality in the three counties. If submitted, the EPA would have determined whether to count five days of high ozone pollution caused by western U.S. wildfires as "exceptional events."
The "exceptional events'' classification would have discounted those five days from air pollution tallies. That, in turn, would have eased Allegan, Berrien and Muskegon's air pollution regulations, despite ozone levels still being high many days of the year putting Michiganders and tourists' health at risk.
A group of 13 health, community and environmental organizations—led by the Michigan Environmental Council with support from the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center—submitted a letter to EGLE in April arguing that all ozone should be counted.
The group made three arguments:
- The three counties in question have experienced elevated ozone levels since 2005.
- Loosening pollution regulations could sicken, even kill, West Michiganders.
- Wildfires should not be considered "exceptional events" because climate change now causes routine, devastating fires.
Our letter, along with our productive talks with EGLE's Air Quality Division made it clear that environmental and public health advocates were watching these deliberations closely and it led to a public health win, said Tina Reynolds, environmental health program director for the Environmental Council.
The end result means that EGLE is now entirely focused on improving air quality on the ground in the name of public health.
“Ozone can exacerbate lung and heart diseases and put everyone’s health at risk," she said. “EGLE's decision will help keep more children in school, more adults at work, more people of all ages out of hospital beds and more vacationers out in the beautiful scenery West Michigan offers. We've just taken a subtle but important step toward happier, healthier communities, and we could not have done it without our 13-member coalition and EGLE staff."
Ground-level ozone forms from the reaction of nitrous oxide and volatile organic compounds, which can be created by wildfires and fossil fuel consumption. Ozone then reacts with the sun, making summer days especially dangerous to peoples' circulatory and respiratory systems. Young children, older adults, people who are active outdoors and people with heart and lung diseases are especially at risk.
An American Thoracic Society report found ozone pollution 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.
The Environmental Council and allies will continue to work with EGLE's Air Quality Division to protect people from ozone across Michigan.
Joining our letter to EGLE to protect the health of people and the planet are the following organizations: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America Michigan Chapter, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Liaison for Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation, MI Air MI Health, Michigan Clinicians for Climate Action, Michigan NAACP, The Original United Citizens of Southwest Detroit, Principia LLC, Reviving Our American Democracy, West Michigan Environmental Action Council and Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition.