Marylanders fed up with living with smog are pressuring the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) to increase protections via a new social media campaign. On Aug. 14, the Sierra Club launched the #StoptheSmog campaign to urge officials to cut dangerous pollution from coal plants.

Maryland residents tweeted to MDE’s Twitter account, @MDEnvironment, photos of themselves wearing red and orange face masks to highlight the number of bad air days residents have suffered throughout this summer.  “@MDEnvironment I need you to clean up Maryland’s dirty coal plants so my lungs don’t have to,” said Twitter user Carol smog squares

“Asthma is expensive,” posted Twitter user Chad Howell, “and I pay the price because Maryland’s dirty coal plants won’t clean up their act. @MDEnvironment#StopTheSmog

“We’re taking action to show our Department of the Environment the faces of Marylanders who are suffering from breathing the air in our state. We know we can do better and hope MDE will listen to demands of communities who are sick of being sick,” Joshua Tulkin, director of the Maryland Sierra Club, said in a statement.

So far this summer the Baltimore area had four Orange Air Alert Action Days. On those days, children, seniors and other vulnerable individuals are cautioned to stay indoors to avoid the potential health risks posed by high levels of smog pollution.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to smog, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and other air pollutants can cause burning of the eyes, irritated throats, and breathing difficulties. Over time, however, such exposure may cause cancer and long-term damage to the immune, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems. In extreme cases, it can even cause death.

The Sierra Club’s initiative was timed to overlap with MDE’s drafting of a new plan – required under the Clean Air Act – to reduce smog and sulfur dioxide. In June, the Obama administration’s plan to slash carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 30 percent by 2030 will get started.

Maryland’s coal companies have objected to MDE’s draft plan. In contrast, local resident, groups, and lawmakers have brought their voices to bear on the issue with public comments and letters calling on the agency to implement robust limits on coal plant pollution.

“Our families can’t afford more frightening asthma attacks and costly hospital visits. It’s time to cut the dangerous pollution from coal plants that is making our kids sick,” said Velma Skinner-Bisiriyu from Dundalk, in a statement. “Baltimore, in particular, suffers from higher than average rates of asthma, which is especially bad among our children. We need our Maryland Department of the Environment to stand up for the health of our families by limiting pollution from the dirtiest sources – coal plants.”

The new plan is required under law because large areas of Maryland fail to meet health-protective standards for smog and/or sulfur dioxide pollution. The plan is set to be publicly released in August and then reviewed by the state’s Air Quality Control Advisory Council on Sept. 8.