For 80 days this year, smog levels have been high enough to make Maryland's air unhealthy to breathe, the American Lung Association said yesterday in pushing for tougher state car emission standards.
By federal standards, the Baltimore metropolitan area violated the ozone standard 16 days this year, mostly in the summer when heat and sunlight combine with pollutants to create ozone, an element in smog. But recent studies have indicated that even the lungs of healthy people will be affected by smog levels lower than the federal standard.
At those lower levels, the lungs can get the equivalent of a sunburn, said Dr. Rebecca Bascom, an associate professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore Environmental Research Facility. Her report, written with Kevin Shindel and Katrina Barnett of the American Lung Association of Maryland, says that for 80 days Marylanders breathed air that could put stress on their lungs.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is assessing the information to determine whether new standards are needed. But already the new studies and the Clean Air Act have increased the pressure on state legislatures along the East Coast to enact much stricter tailpipe standards.
Yesterday, two legislators and Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced separate plans to introduce almost identical legislation tailored after California law.
The proposals would require automobile manufacturers to build cars by model year 1996 that would spew 50 percent less in pollutants than permitted by federal standards.
Cars registered in the state would have to get progressively cleaner over the next decade. And by 1997, 2 percent of the state's own fleet would have to be "zero emission" cars -- cars that are run by electricity or a reformulated fuel.
Even if the measure passes, it may not solve the state's air problems. By the year 2010, Maryland's vehicle registrations are expected to have grown by 75 percent. The number of miles traveled by car also is expected to increase dramatically.
But Dr. Bascom said the measure would go a long way toward helping the patients she sees each summer. Their lungs are irritated and they can't breath, she said.
Research has not shown what the long-term effects are to people who live in cities such as Baltimore, which is one of the 10 worst in the nation for ozone. But what is clear, Dr. Bascom said, is that ozone makes asthmatics more sensitive and affects the lung capacity of children.
Last month, environmental officials from eight states and the District of Columbia agreed to push as a coalition to make the California standards law up and down the East Coast. So far, Connecticut is the only state that has failed to sign on.
Maryland is still split over whether its legislation should be written with a trigger, to take effect only if other Northeastern states pass identical measures. The states are inclined to act as a body because air pollution is swept across boundaries.
Automobile dealers in Maryland would only support the measure with the trigger, said Joseph Carroll, who represents the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association. Dealers do not want to be at a competitive disadvantage because they cannot exchange cars with dealers in other states, Mr. Carroll said.
Pollution devices would also make the Maryland cars about $200 more expensive.
The governor has not decided whether the administration bill will include the trigger.