I live in the Maryland countryside about 50 miles outside of Washington. It’s a beautiful region with rolling hills and farmland and dense forest rife with delicious green smells. I run in the early morning with my dog because the air is cooler and fresher. This is particularly important during the warmer months, as smog season in Maryland begins in June. Every year, the cool freshness of the spring air turns warm, heavy and laden with moisture, which becomes a problem when mixed with the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide released by coal-burning power plants. The few times I’ve run later in the day, even in the winter, I’ve noticed a distinct, acrid tang in the air and a tightened feeling in my lungs. That’s a taste of how it feels to be asthmatic.
I don’t suffer from asthma, but I have friends who do, and I have seen them having an attack. Asthma is a nasty disease that makes you feel like you’re suffocating. It makes it impossible to do a host of things; it ruins the quality of your life; and it kills. In 2009, asthma was an underlying cause of death for 72 Maryland residents, while 149 others died with asthma as a contributing factor. More than a quarter of high school students in Baltimore have been diagnosed with asthma.
Asthma is particularly common among Marylanders because our state has the worst air quality on the East Coast, says the Environmental Protection Agency. Only five of Maryland’s 13 coal-burning power plants have modern pollution-cutting technology for sulfur dioxide and smog-causing nitrogen oxide. And none of the five plants uses its technology to the maximum extent possible to reduce pollution. Why not? Smog and sulfur dioxide not only contribute to asthma, but they can also trigger heart attacks and lead to bronchitis and pneumonia, which also can kill.
Everyone needs to breathe clean air. We must take action now.