Author Archives: John Balbus

Concerned Citizens Plea for Stronger CAFE Standards

John BalbusThis post is by John Balbus, M.D., M.P.H., Chief Health Scientist at Environmental Defense Fund.

Yesterday, a quiet public hearing on a hot August day in Washington D.C. drew a surprisingly large crowd. The official reason for the hearing, conducted by the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA), was to take comment on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for revised Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. A lawsuit forced NHTSA to draft an EIS that assessed global climate change impacts – including health – from improved fuel economy in the U.S. car and light truck fleet.

The 400-page document is technical, turgid, incomplete and misleading, and asserts that it is not possible to distinguish between the future health and climate impacts of a 41 mpg fuel economy versus the present 25 mpg. Needless to say, EDF does not agree with that conclusion or the methods used to come to it, but the comments at the hearing were far broader than just the EIS. Most striking was the lineup of citizens who called on NHTSA to take definitive action on climate change to help protect their future.

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Posted in Cars and Pollution, Health| Comments are closed

EPA Reports on Danger of Greenhouse Gases

John BalbusThis post is by John Balbus, M.D., M.P.H., Chief Health Scientist at Environmental Defense Fund.

Despite EPA's refusal to formally acknowledge the danger of greenhouse gases in its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR), two recently released EPA reports detail the health dangers of greenhouse gases.

The first, a support document for the ANPR [PDF], summarizes the extensive body of science showing that global warming pollution presents a serious threat to human health and the environment. The document is labeled "draft" and stamped "do not circulate or cite", but is listed on the EPA Web site as one of the supporting documents for the released ANPR. From the Executive Summary:

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Posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health| Comments are closed

H.E.L.P. For Climate Change and Health

John BalbusThis post is by John Balbus, M.D., M.P.H., Chief Health Scientist at Environmental Defense Fund.

Last week was National Public Health Week, with a focus on how climate change harms health. The week's activities flowed from the public health community into the Congress.

In the House, Center for Disease Control's Howard Frumkin detailed the dangers to human health posed by climate change. In the Senate, Senator Kennedy's Health, Education, Labor and Pension (H.E.L.P.) committee also held hearings on climate change and health.

I was invited to give testimony before the H.E.L.P committee about the gaps in public health preparedness for climate change, based on a survey and upcoming report I wrote on the topic. Here are some of the highlights. My full testimony [PDF] is posted on our Web site.

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Posted in Health| Comments are closed

EPA's Mercury Rule: Bad Use of Cap-and-Trade

John BalbusThis post is by John Balbus, M.D., M.P.H., Chief Health Scientist at Environmental Defense.

A federal appeals court decided last week that a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule exempting coal- and oil-fired power plants from cutting toxic mercury pollution violates the Clean Air Act and is unlawful. The court rebuked EPA for attempting to create an illegal loophole for the power generating industry rather than applying the toughest emission standards of the Clean Air Act (see full text of decision [PDF]).

The ruling invalidates the agency's so-called "Clean Air Mercury Rule," which allowed power plants that fail to meet emission targets to buy credits from plants that exceeded targets, rather than installing mercury emissions controls of their own. In other words, the EPA wanted to use a cap-and-trade system with mercury – a highly toxic substance.

Fourteen states, dozens of Native American tribes, public health and environmental groups (including Environmental Defense), and organizations representing registered nurses and physicians challenged the EPA's mercury rules. Are you surprised that Environmental Defense opposed a cap-and-trade system? It's because mercury is a toxin, and cap-and-trade doesn't work with toxins.

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Posted in News| Comments are closed

Dangerous CFLs? Don't Believe Everything You Read

John BalbusThis post is by John Balbus, M.D., M.P.H., Chief Health Scientist at Environmental Defense.

On February 3, Parade published a misleading Medical Alert column with the headline "Bright Lights, Bad Headache?" by Dr. Isadore Rosenfeld. It starts with a list of unsubstantiated claims:

As energy-saving fluorescent lightbulbs become standard, new research suggests some dangers: Flickering bulbs have been reported to precipitate migraines or even seizures, though manufacturers say the new models have been improved. Fluorescent light also can aggravate skin rashes in people with lupus, eczema, dermatitis or porphyria.

Environmental Defense could find no published scientific studies demonstrating that compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) trigger migraines or seizures. And unlike older fluorescent tube lights, modern CFLs with electronic ballasts don’t flicker.

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Posted in Health| Read 3 Responses

Virus from Africa Spreading in a Warmer Italy

John BalbusThis post is by John Balbus, M.D., M.P.H., Chief Health Scientist at Environmental Defense.

Ravenna Province in ItalyNearly 300 people in northeast Italy have come down with a virus formerly limited to Africa and Asia called Chikungunya Fever (CHIKV). It's not usually fatal, but it's not pleasant. Sufferers experience fever, joint pain, muscle pain, and headache. In the Makonde language, "chikungunya" means "that which bends up" – a reference to the victim's contorted posture.

Dean Menke, a policy analyst here, had the disease when he was living in East Timor: "I thought I was going to die – I wished I would die just so the pain would stop. If it wasn’t for the hallucinations from the 104° fever, the whole ordeal would have been a waste."

CHIKV virus is very rare in Europe, and until now, it was only seen in travelers returning from areas with epidemics. According to a report [PDF] from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, this is the first time CHIKV virus has spread through local means within the European mainland. And that's why climate change must be considered.

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Posted in Health| Read 1 Response
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