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Possible local sources of greenhouse gases and their impacts

Updated: Dec 28, 2020


Co-chairs of Mobilize Frederick

The first question, what are greenhouse gasses (GHGs) and how do they affect our local climate, was answered in our first summary on Nov. 2. In this article, local and regional sources of these GHGs are identified and their impact on local resident health is explored. In a partnership with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, 2018 GHG emissions for the county were estimated at about 3.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year, with 1 million attributable to the city. The largest GHG contributor was transportation in both, producing about 50 percent of all emissions, or 1.27 million metric tons outside the city and 0.53 million metric tons inside. The GHGs were produced through fossil fuel-powered cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles.

Combustion of fossil fuels for powering and heating and cooling residential and commercial buildings is the next most important emitter, yielding 0.90 million metric tons each year for non-city areas and 0.47 million metric tons each year in the city. Lesser contributors are noted for agriculture, leaks of fluorocarbon, refrigerant, natural gas distribution, and solid waste treatment, yielding emissions of 0.23, 0.14, and 0.05 million metric tons each year, respectively, across the city and county. Not included in these estimates are emissions associated with production of the fossil fuels, synthetic fertilizers, and refrigerants, which occur outside the county but are still worth consideration as part of global and national climate impacts.

What do all these numbers mean for local residents? University of Maryland scientists have documented a significant increase in early season asthma hospitalization in the area, a concern as the new climate's impacts will be exacerbated through time as we face earlier and earlier spring pollen with the expansion of the growing season to earlier periods in the year and later periods in the fall.

The state has projected that asthma-specific hospitalizations for our neighbor Washington County could increase by 361 percent by 2040 due to climate-induced extreme heat and storm events. As GHG gases perpetuate the warmer temperatures we now experience, they are also accompanied by release of very small particles (PM2.5, particles less than 2.5 micrometers or 0.0001"). Extremes of these particles would be as familiar as open

fire smoke and diesel exhaust. These particles increase respiratory irritation and coughing, sneezing, and asthma-like conditions which may require medical care.

Dramatically, these particles are estimated to induce more than 68,000 premature deaths in the U.S. Most of these particles come from energy generation and use in residences and commercial enterprises, accounting for 58 percent of these deaths while transportation and agriculture are each linked to about 18 percent of the total mortalities. Although current totals for respiratory- distressed populations and associated medical treatment are unknown for Frederick County and city, GHG emissions and the accompanying dispersed particulates might explain the projected increases in Washington County, our similarly agriculture- dominated neighbor, and thereby pose serious public health issues for our county's future.

Another area of health impact is created by sunlight-mediated chemical reactions between oxygen-containing nitrogen compounds (oxides of nitrogen, NOx) and carbon containing compounds in the air (known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs) to form near surface ozone-rich areas. Oxygen containing nitrogen compounds are emitted locally by cars, power plants, synthetic fertilizers and other sources. Under sunny, warm, calm conditions, these compounds will chemically react to form ozone and induce respiratory distress in residents, having the same potential impacts as the respiratory problems identified earlier. It is quite possible that county ozone threats will increase as poor air quality days per year increase, identified between 2016 and 2018 in in the Livable Frederick Master Plan. Is that symptomatic of our future as warm, calm days increase in the new climate?

For references outlining these results, go to In our next summary, the difference between climate and weather, often confused, will be discussed to explain the new environmental conditions that surround us.

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