For Immediate Release: March 13, 2008
Frank O’Donnell, President, Clean Air Watch, 202-558-3527/202-302-2065
Greg Smith, Community Research, 240-605-9238 (c)
Medical Expert and Environmental Leaders to Testify, Urging Study of Health Impacts and Accelerated Global Warming from the Intercounty Connector
Maryland Legislature to Hear Two Bills to Protect Thousands from Harmful Pollution.
Annapolis: This Friday and next Wednesday, the Maryland House of Delegates Environmental Matters Committee will hold public hearings on bills that would stop state expenditures on controversial Intercounty Connector until Maryland agencies assess and disclose the highway’s climate and public health impacts.
On Friday afternoon at 1 pm, the Committee will hear House Bill 1416 — House Bill on the “ICC Impact on Climate Change” (HB 1416). The committee will hear the “ICC Impact on Health” (HB1595) next Wednesday, March 19th.
The Bills would require the state to assess the climate change impacts and the harmful health effects from air pollution near the proposed Intercounty Connector. Both issues have so far been ignored by state highway officials. Members of the health community and climate experts joined to testify in favor of the bills and urge the General Assembly to pass legislation that would halt construction of the 18-mile, six lane toll highway to allow full assessments of the risks.
The ICC and Climate Change
“The Maryland State Highway Administration failed to analyze the increase in greenhouse gas emissions from this huge highway,” said Frank O’Donnell, President of Clean Air Watch. “Because it increases the amount of driving and emissions while clear-cutting irreplaceable forests, the ICC would undermine the commitment of the Governor and state legislators to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The Governor told the U.S. Senate in January that ‘The time for action to combat global warming is now.’”
Transportation generates roughly 35 percent of Maryland’s greenhouse gases, and it may be the fastest-growing source in the state because of increased driving. The ICC is predicted to increase vehicle miles traveled by 20 percent in the ICC Study Area, which covers much of Montgomery County and a portion of northwestern Prince George’s County. Severe climate change would increase sea levels and water temperatures, destroying Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay marshes, habitat and species that support the Bay and ocean fisheries. Scientists conclude that we must reduce CO2 emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 – a target echoed by the Maryland Climate Change Commission.
The ICC and Health
Dr. Ben Gitterman, a pediatrician who specializes in environmental health, stated, “Children, senior citizens and people with respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease and other conditions are especially vulnerable to traffic-related air pollution. The closer you live, work or play to a busy road, the greater your exposure and risk of disease or premature death.”
The ICC would be very close to Drew Elementary, close to other schools and the homes of thousands of seniors in Leisure World.
“These air pollutants can be highly toxic. The state should fully assess and disclose the health impacts of these pollutants,” said Dr. Gitterman. “People have a fundamental right know and have an informed say about what could happen to them and their children.”
The most dangerous highway-related pollutants include: fine and ultra-fine particles that penetrate deeply into the lungs; ground-level ozone (a major constituent of smog); and a wide range of toxic chemicals associated with cancer, heart attacks, strokes, respiratory disease, neurological damage, and other health problems.
“We cannot believe that the state has ignored the health impacts of the ICC on our children. How can they build this huge highway so close to our school and not study or tell us about the risks to our children?” said Tiffin Shewmake, parent of two fourth grade students at Drew Elementary School.
Thousands of seniors living in Leisure World and surrounding communities would also be placed at risk, especially those with breathing and heart problems.
The ICC would carry more than 100,000 cars and trucks per day on some stretches, and would induce more development and traffic than would otherwise be present in the study area. The impact zone for highway air pollution can extend to 500 meters (1650 feet) or more, but the ICC would pass within roughly 80 meters (less than 90 yards) of the playing fields of Drew Elementary School, close to other schools, and even closer to many homes, especially where the Maryland State Highway Administration is taking the backyards of hundreds of families. According to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, roughly 12,000 current homes, or about 30,000 residents, would be within the 500 meter air pollution danger zone of the ICC.