New Castle County earns ‘F’ grade for pollution
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 03:05
After investigating Delaware’s air quality, the American Lung Association gave New Castle County a failing grade in particle pollution, rating it the most polluted county in the state.
New Castle and the remaining counties in the state, Kent and Sussex, all failed in the ozone category, a toxic air pollutant and main component of smog. The latter two counties received high grades for particle pollution, which is a daily average of chemical components, such as acids, metals and soil particles, which exist in the air. All three counties passed the “Particle Pollution Annual” category.
Deborah Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, said New Castle County’s proximity to industrial areas, such as Philadelphia, contributes to its poor air quality.
“Depending on which way winds are blowing, Delaware can get air pollution from other areas,” Brown said. “Cross-state pollution happens. It is not to say Delaware doesn’t pollute its own air, though.”
Although air pollution has become a problem in parts of the state, Brown said some government acts may delay air regulations, such as the Gasoline Regulations Act, which is currently in committee in the House of Representatives. Though the act is meant to address rising gas prices, Brown said it would sacrifice public health safeguards mandated by the Clean Air Act, such as standards for tailpipe emissions and ground-level ozone standards.
“Some people think adding more safety measures would cost too much and eliminate jobs, but it’s actually the opposite,” Brown said. “It’s potentially employing more people to manufacture and maintain the new technology.”
Materials science professor Juejun Hu said air particle pollution depends on two main sources, local and out-of-state pollution.
“Particles stay in the air for a very long time,” Hu said. “They can come a very long way. Part of the transportation depends on the climate. If the climate were to change, the air pollution might change as well.”
Analytical chemistry graduate student Joseph Klems said there are no easy fixes for air pollution, though measures like car emission regulations are gradually becoming more effective.
“Except for the possibility of litigation or making agreements with other states, we don’t really have much control over pollution created in other states that transports into our state,” Klems said. “This means that we have to work extra hard to reduce the pollution we create in order to keep levels below the limits.”
Graduate student Bryan Bzdek, also pursuing an analytical chemistry doctoral degree, said that despite poor air quality in New Castle County, this air pollution problem is not exclusive to Delaware. In fact, many states are not meeting ozone and particulate matter standards.
Bzdek said the American Lung Association uses less strict criteria than the Environmental Protection Agency does when measuring pollution levels, but New Castle County still ranked low.
“Even using the standards set by the EPA, New Castle County is not performing well,” Bzdek said. “The good news is that New Castle County easily passes the annual particulate matter threshold, and pollutant levels are definitely on the decline in New Castle County.”
Junior Daniel Schwam said he was not surprised that the county received a failing grade in air pollution.
“I’m from northern New Jersey, outside of New York City,” Schwam said. “[Pollution is] a little better here because there’s less heavy industry. I still notice how polluted it is, though.”
He said construction areas contribute heavily to air pollution, especially on campus.
“I have asthma, so I often have trouble breathing near the construction sites,” Schwam said. “I can see a lot of construction matter coming up into the air.”
Brown said students can help curb pollution by consciously acting to use less energy and gas.
“All students want the ability to breathe clean air, so they need to look at what they are doing that is contributing to air pollution,” she said. “There are really simple things we can do, such as combining road trips and turning the lights off, that can help.”
Senior Lindsay McNamara, an environmental studies major and member of the Sustainability Task Force executive council, said she believes assigning letter grades for air pollution makes the topic more evident than merely discussing the issues.
“The letter grade makes pollution tangible for people,” McNamara said. “Unless you physically see the dust, a lot of the time people don’t understand there’s a problem. It makes it hard to grasp that something is wrong.”