By Angela Tin
The recent Tribune article on air quality in Chicago (”Chicago air dirtier in July than notoriously smoggy LA,” July 12) shows a disturbing paradox: Even though people across Chicagoland have dramatically reduced their regular activities, our local air quality is as bad as ever.
A combination of car fumes, factory exhaust and other pollutants have actually made the air in Chicago worse than that of notoriously smog-ridden Los Angeles. The higher temperatures of climate change, combined with fireworks smoke and smog that moves inland from Lake Michigan later in the day, have piled on to create dangerously high levels of ozone. This is especially relevant during the pandemic, as higher levels of pollution directly correlate to a higher fatality rate of COVID-19, a recent Harvard study found.
Thankfully, there are some bold policy changes that we can make to improve our air, and that’s around the electrification of our transportation industry. With the transportation sector being the largest contributor to air pollution, a move away from fossil fuels and toward wind and solar energy would be a huge boon to the Chicagoland region.
In a 2016 study of 10 states, more electric vehicles on the road, for instance, could save more than $21 billion in health and climate costs combined by decreasing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the air. Electrification would also lead to more jobs, as new, cleaner industries enter the marketplace. Pollution has always been bad in Chicago — the city ranked 16th most-polluted city in the country based on number of high-ozone days in 2019, according to the American Lung Association.
Additionally, when it comes to childhood asthma rates, Chicago ranks third-worst among major metropolitan areas because of the levels of air pollution.
As a member of Illinois Clean Air Now (ICAN), a coalition of clean energy, health advocacy and transportation industry stakeholders, the American Lung Association is advocating for these changes because we know the impact they will have for generations to come.
Let’s not waste this opportunity, because electrification could be an action that can lead to cleaner skies and a better lung health. What’s not to like?
— Angela Tin, national senior director for clean air initiatives, American Lung Association, Springfield