Author Archives: Elena Craft, PhD

Study: Clean air makes children's lungs stronger, healthier

Source: Flickr/Alec Couros

We’ve known for a long time that breathing polluted air can make you sick. Now there's more evidence that breathing cleaner air can make you better.

The New England Journal of Medicine published new research this month detailing improved lung function in children that breathe cleaner air.

The Southern California study received major attention.

That’s not surprising – as it provides compelling evidence that efforts to improve air quality over the years have been successful in improving children’s health.

The study followed three populations of children, aged 11 to 15, for a period of four years. This age group was chosen because children’s lungs develop rapidly during this stage.

In all, the study examined more than 2,100 children in five distinct California communities.

The report found that the greatest improvements in lung function were seen with declining levels of particulate pollution, also known as soot; and of nitrogen dioxide, a fuel combustion byproduct.

And potentially the best benefit of all: Cleaner air doesn’t just lead to healthier lungs during childhood because the benefits last a lifetime. Children with healthier lungs grow up to be adults who have a lower risk of premature death and other serious health problems.

The bottom line?

We need and deserve policies to secure a wide range of protections for cleaner, healthier air. Fighting for stronger health protections against smog and defending the first-ever national standards to reduce mercury pollution and other air toxics from power plants are good places to start.

Please join us in giving future generations the best possible chance, today and tomorrow, for healthy lungs.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Posted in Health, Policy| Comments are closed

Clearing the air: Why we need strong smog standards

Smog over Dallas Skyline. Source: WikiCommons

This week and next, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is holding hearings across the country on the proposed updates to our national smog (ground-level ozone) standards from their current level of 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 65 to 70 ppb. Exacerbated by the combustion of fossil-fuel power plants and car exhaust, ground-level ozone is the single most widespread air pollutant in the United States and is linked to severe respiratory health outcomes. Ozone poses a great threat to public health across America.

What is the issue?

Smog is a dangerous air pollutant that is linked to premature deaths, asthma attacks, and other serious heart and lung diseases. It is estimated that more than 140 million people live in areas with unhealthy levels of smog pollution. The very air we breathe is putting us at risk for adverse health outcomes such as premature deaths, increased asthma attacks and other severe respiratory illnesses, as well as increased hospital visits.

Does the proposal go far enough?

While EDF supports EPA’s proposal to strengthen these critical health protections, we believe that going even further, to 60 ppb, would provide the strongest protections for Americans and would be in line with what leading medical associations like the American Lung Association recommend.

Can this be achieved?

America has decades of experience innovating and cost-effectively cleaning up the air – and we can do so again to reduce smog pollution. From the Tier 3 tailpipe standards to the proposed Clean Power Plan, which would set the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, the air across the country is becoming cleaner, showing us that we can have healthy air and a strong economy.  In some American cities, we estimate that ozone is already declining each year thanks to important air regulations such as the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, but there is still work to do.

What can you do?

Voice your support for strong clean air standards! A strong smog standard will help ensure Americans know whether the air they are breathing is safe, and will drive much-needed pollution reductions. Our communities, our families, and our children are counting on EPA’s leadership in setting a strong ground-level ozone standard.

This post was adapted from an earlier post on EDF’s Texas Clean Air Matters blog

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Health, Policy| Read 1 Response

5 reasons EPA is right about tougher smog standards

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Robert S. Donovan

The Environmental Protection Agency last week released much-awaited, tighter standards for smog pollution, common-sense protections that will save lives and safeguard human health from one of the nation’s most ubiquitous air pollutants – ozone.

As expected, it took but a few hours before critics lashed out, while ignoring key facts behind EPA’s proposal. Here are five reasons EPA is on the right track:

1. The current standard doesn’t do enough to protect human health

About half our population, some 156 million Americans, areat risk from smog, or ground-level ozone, because of age, health conditions, or the work that they do. They include more than 25 million people with asthma, 74 million children, 40 million senior citizens, and nearly 17 million outdoor workers.

Our current standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) doesn’t adequately protect human health.

EPA’s new proposal, issued under a court-ordered deadline, is a step in the right direction – even if it doesn’t, in our view, go far enough.

Consider this: The proposed 65 to 70 ppb limit would prevent between 320,000 and 960,000 asthma attacks in children and up to 1 million lost school days. It would also prevent up to 180,000 lost work days and an estimated 750 to 4,300 premature deaths.

2. Clean air is good for the economy

By law, the issue of cost cannot be factored in when setting a health-based standard. But even if costs were considered, the conclusion remains that clean air is good for the economy.

Since 1970, the benefits of the Clean Air Act have outweighed costs by 30 to 1, and a similar trend is expected to hold true also for the proposed smog standards.

In fact, in Texas, the state agency charged with protecting public health and natural resources, concluded that Houston’s gross domestic product increased as smog concentrations dropped.

3. EPA’s action is backed by science

The proposed standard, set to be finalized in October 2015, has been recommended repeatedly by EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, an independent panel of leading scientists, as well as by medical and public health professionals nationwide.

There’s overwhelming evidence showing that smog affects millions at the existing standard of 75 ppb.

In fact, EPA is also seeking comments on a health standard that would limit exposure to 60 ppb – a standard that would provide the strongest protections for Americans and be in line with what groups such as the American Lung Association recommend.

4. Smog pollution measures are nothing new

The United States has already taken steps over the past few years that help to cost-effectively reduce smog pollution and help restore healthy air.

Those protections include the Tier 3 tailpipe standards, supported by the U.S. auto industry, which will slash smog-forming pollution from new cars beginning in model year 2017. Meanwhile, EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan  will reduce smog-forming pollutants from power plant smokestacks nationwide.

These standards will work in tandem to cut pollution and spur new innovation. America has shown time and time again that we can innovate and come up with solutions for industry that make new regulations affordable.

5. It’s time we catch up with other developed nations

Once a leader in environmental protection, the U.S. now lags behind other developed and developing nations in the protectiveness of air quality standards for smog.

Numerous industrialized countries have adopted ozone standards that are far more protective than the current standard in the U.S. The European Union’s limit today is 60 ppb and Canada’s is 63 ppb, for example.

Some of these countries are doing as well, or better, economically than the U.S.

For this and all other reasons mentioned here, EPA’s new smog standards will help us breathe easier.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health, Policy| Read 1 Response

Soot Pollution Limits Unanimously Upheld in Court, Continuing Clean Air Victory Streak

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) particulate matter (soot) pollution standard, ruling that EPA’s decision to strengthen the standard in 2012 was firmly grounded in science and the law. The ruling also upheld EPA’s new requirement that states install air quality monitors near heavy traffic roads, where soot pollution levels can spike. The court’s decision is the latest in a string of legal victories for critical health protections on air pollution.

When fossil fuels are burned in an automobile or power plant, they release soot pollution, very fine, ashy particles less than one tenth the width of a human hair. These particles are so small that the air can carry them for long distances. When inhaled, soot particles penetrate deep into the lungs, where they can cross into the bloodstream via the path normally taken by inhaled oxygen. Exposure to soot pollution can inflame and alter our blood vessels, cutting off the oxygen supply to our heart and brain, leading to a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiac event.

The Clean Air Act mandates that EPA revisit its standards on criteria air pollutants – like soot – every five years, so that clean air standards can keep pace with the latest understanding of health science. Since EPA established its 2006 soot standard, hundreds of scientific studies have shown that particle pollution could cause adverse health effects—even in cities that met EPA’s established limits. Based on this information, in 2012, EPA strengthened its soot pollution standard to protect public health. Furthermore, EPA called for states to implement roadside air quality monitors to ensure the standards would likewise protect individuals exposed to significant near-road emissions.

The National Association of Manufacturers and the Utility Air Resources group, a coalition of large power companies and coal companies, filed legal challenges to EPA’s new soot standards, arguing that the 2006 standard was sufficient to protect public health. But the science doesn’t lie. In the D.C. Circuit Court’s unanimous decision, Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote:

Here, we can be brief: Petitioners have not identified any way in which EPA jumped the rails of reasonableness in examining the science. EPA offered reasoned explanations for how it approached and weighed the evidence, and why the scientific evidence supported revision of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

EPA was reasonable in their interpretation of the science—the polluting companies, on the other hand, could not present a credible argument against the updated soot pollution standards, or the need for roadside air quality monitors.

This important victory is critical to protect our families and communities from harmful soot pollution, and it is clear that EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act stands up to both legal and scientific scrutiny.

This post was adapted from EDF’s Texas Clean Air Matters Blog

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Health| Read 3 Responses

D.C. Circuit Court Rejects More Protective Ozone Standards

(This post originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog)

I’ve written extensively about the potentially grave health effects of ground-level ozone (smog) and the need for stronger standards to address ozone pollution.  In 2008, the EPA set a national standard for ozone at 75 parts per billion—despite the fact that the nation’s leading medical societies and the EPA’s own Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) warned that the standard was not stringent enough to protect Americans from adverse health effects.  A number of U.S. cities and counties petitioned the EPA to amend the standards to sufficient levels.  EDF joined the call for common-sense ozone standards, partnering with the National Resources Defense Council, American Lung Association, National Parks Conservation Association, Appalachian Mountain Club and Earthjustice to press for a more protective standard.

Last week, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected petitions for a more protective air quality standard for ground-level ozone.  The decision is deeply disappointing and in direct contradiction of ample scientific evidence showing the health hazards of ozone pollution at levels below the current standards.

Reasonable ozone standards are of particular importance to Texans.  Ozone tends to form from vehicle tailpipe emissions on hot sunny days—so it’s no surprise that a typical Texas summer day is a perfect incubator for ozone gas.  Texas has some of the highest ozone levels in the nation.  The American Lung association identified a number of Texas cities and counties as ozone danger areas—including Houston and Dallas, two of the largest cities in the United States.

Millions of Texans are exposed to dangerous ozone levels every summer.  Ozone can cause inflammation of the lungs, making breathing difficult or painful.  Increased lung irritation from ozone exacerbates asthma, emphysema, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases—increasing the risk of asthma attacks and other dangerous respiratory events.  Just a short period of moderate ozone exposure can push breathing problems over the edge; a 2010 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reported a 19% increase in ICU admissions on higher ozone days.  Another study published in Environmental Research Letters linked short-term exposure to ozone with increased hospital emissions among the elderly.  And in Houston, researchers have demonstrated a significant increase in risk of heart attacks within just a few hours of exposure to ozone.

While today’s decision declined to establish a reasonable, protective standard on national ozone levels, the EPA should move forward with stronger standards as it conducts its legally-required review of the 2008 standard.  There are a number of proven, cost-effective solutions to protect Americans from the dangers of smog.  The EPA should mitigate ozone pollution at the source by finalizing the “Tier 3” tailpipe emission standards, which would have significant benefits for Texans and save billions in healthcare costs going forward.  At the same time, the EPA should strengthen emissions standards for other sources of ozone like oil and gas development activities and coal-fired power plants.

Texas’ combination of steady oil and gas development, hot summers, and millions of cars on the road increases the potential for generation of harmful levels of ozone. The Clean Air Act is our strongest lever to protect public health from the impacts of pollutants like ozone.  I am confident that the latest assessment of the standard will result in a standard that better reflects the scientific literature and more adequately protects public health.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health, Policy| Comments are closed

Stronger Ozone Standards Will Secure Healthier, Longer Lives for Millions of Americans

(Originally posted yesterday on EDF Voices)

For some time, public health and medical experts have been clear that the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality standard for ozone, the primary ingredient in smog, isn’t doing enough to protect Americans from serious health risks.

Unfortunately, before EPA even proposed new health standards in response to rigorous science, the American Petroleum Institute (API) attacked with sky is falling claims that 97% of businesses in America would shut down.

This is quintessential beltway politics: fact free and designed to hide the real issues.

As a health scientist, I think the facts matter. And the bottom line is that EPA has a responsibility to adopt health standards anchored in science. So let’s take a closer look at what the science tells us.

Ground-level ozone is the main component of smog and is the single most widespread air pollutant. Ozone is linked to premature deaths, increased asthma attacks and breathing problems, as well as increased emergency room and hospital admissions. This pollutant poses an especially serious risk to children, seniors and people with lung diseases like asthma and bronchitis.

The Science is Sound

The science on ozone’s health effects is rock solid. Evidence from more than 1700 peer-reviewed scientific reports (which continues to be reinforced by new data) clearly shows that our current ozone standard isn’t doing the job of protecting the public health. We need to strengthen that standard.

The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) – the body that makes science-based recommendations to EPA – has issued multiple statements indicating that the current ozone standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) is unacceptable with regard to protecting human health.

And new research, including recent reports demonstrating a significant increase in pulmonary inflammation in healthy individuals exposed to 60 parts per billion (ppb) ozone, supports this analysis and highlights the urgent need for a more health-protective standard.

Need for an Adequate Margin of Safety

By law, EPA must set national health-based standards that protect human health with “an adequate margin of safety.” To do this, the agency considers factors including the nature and severity of the health effects involved, the size of the at-risk populations, and the scientific uncertainties that must be addressed.

How do these factors add up in the case of ozone?

The nature and severity of the health effects involved: It is hard to imagine health effects more severe than death or the inability of a person to breathe without a struggle, especially if it’s a small child who has to be rushed to the emergency room.

The size of the at-risk population: Nearly 34 million Americans have been diagnosed with asthma during their lifetimes and estimates predict that number will grow by more than 100 million by 2025. Nearly 12 million people suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a disease that causes serious, long-term disability and kills more than 120,000 Americans each year. And that’s only a partial list of those at increased risk from ozone.

The degree of uncertainties that must be addressed: Evidence continues to accumulate of effects in healthy people at exposures as low or lower than 60 ppb. Thus, if uncertainty is part of the decision making process, then EPA is obliged to adopt a standard even more protective than the one recommended by CASAC.

Here We Go Again: Unfounded Claims Concerning Economic Impacts

These kinds of sky is falling prognostications are not new. As far back as 1997, when EPA was considering one of the first revisions to the ozone health standard, Senator Spencer Abraham (R. MI) was among many who claimed that the new standards would have devastating economic impacts. “Dry cleaning establishments, hair salons, and other small businesses will not be able to absorb the increased costs imposed by these regulations,” the Senator said.

Those claims proved to be entirely false. In fact, in fact, Texas has made the case that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has gone up even as ozone controls strategies have been adopted, resulting in cleaner air across the state.

Old scare tactics die hard. That’s why today API and others are again trying to stop reform of the ozone standards by making the same sort of unfounded claims that all businesses will close the doors. But environmental protection is, or should be, a health issue, not a political football. And it’s on the ground of health that that The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American College of Chest Physicians, the American Public Health Association and the American Thoracic Society have all endorsed CASAC recommendations for new ozone standards.

In the end, EPA should not be swayed by “sky is falling” claims, whether from the petroleum industry or any other group. We urge EPA not to delay adoption stricter ozone standards. To do so would be to needlessly threaten the health of millions of Americans.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health, News| Comments are closed
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