May 30, 2020

Smog choking much of Northeast

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — With late-summer swelter still possible, much of the Northeast is panting and heaving through its thickest smog in years, air quality monitors say.

In Connecticut, the smog has been at its worst since 1993. In Maryland, any more hot and stagnant weather will also likely yield that state’s highest levels in years.

Environmental regulators blame the 1997 Summer of Smog on quirks of the annual weather cycle. They say hot, still, sunny weather conspired with the position of the jet stream to produce exceptional conditions for making ozone — popularly called smog.

“It’s kind of like we got hit in the bull’s-eye,” said Paul Miller, a policy analyst for the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, set up by government health officials around the Northeast.

Smog forms when sunlight cooks chemicals released into the air largely by cars and factories. It is found in the lowest slice of the atmosphere near the ground, not in the so-called ozone layer of the stratosphere.

Smog worsens asthma, allergies and many lung ailments. Children who play outside, adults who jog or work outside, and the elderly are especially susceptible.

Air quality monitors say this season’s spiking smog provides a reminder that much of the Northeast still violates federal safety standards for pollution, despite general improvement over the years. They say it demonstrates the need for new smog-control efforts that are under way in some states.

The Northeast, from the northern section of Virginia to Maine, has strained under 24 smog days so far this year — with levels above the U.S. standard for at least one monitoring station, according to Miller. The region’s most recent peak years were 1995 with 25 smog days, and 1993 with 38. There were 60 in 1988 — an indication of the overall trend downward.

Some of the highest smog levels this summer were recorded in Connecticut, which includes part of the New York City metropolitan area, and Maryland, where commuters clog the highways.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will direct states next month to reduce smog-causing chemicals from utilities and factories. Some Northeast states are pressing for stronger action.

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