Monthly Archives: December 2012

EPA Updates Standards to Reduce Levels of Deadly Soot Pollution in Our Air

America took a big step toward cleaner, healthier air today.

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its long-awaited updated standards for fine particulate matter.

EDF was among the many health and environmental groups applauding the life-saving new standards.

Fine particulate matter is often referred to as soot, although it actually comprises a broader array of fine particles. It gets into the air we breathe — some of it directly emitted from cars and trucks, some of it resulting from factories and power plants hundreds of miles upwind – and then can lodge in our lungs and cause a variety of heart and lung problems, especially in children and seniors.

In fact, soot is one of the deadliest types of air pollution. It can cause heart attacks, asthma attacks, and premature death. Recent studies have found that soot is potentially associated with autism as well.

A letter signed by over 650 health and medical professionals stated:

Fine particulate air pollution is cutting short the lives of tens of thousands of Americans each year. Studies have shown fine particulate air pollution is shortening lives by up to six months …

Numerous, long-term multi-city studies have shown clear evidence of premature death, cardiovascular and respiratory harm as well as reproductive and developmental harm at contemporary concentrations far below the level of the current standard ..

Infants, children and teenagers are especially sensitive, as are the elderly, and people with cardiovascular disease, lung disease, or diabetes. The new EPA standards should be set at levels that will protect these sensitive people with an adequate margin of safety, as required by the Clean Air Act.

States have a variety of tools to meet the updated and strengthened standards. They include:

  • Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – these national standards for power plants are already being implemented, and will help reduce soot as well as mercury
  • Lower Sulfur Gasoline for Cars — EPA could put these standards in place as soon as next year to help clean up soot
  • Air Toxics Rules for Cement Plants and Boilers — EPA is expected to finalize these soon. They will provide further soot emission reductions across the country
  • Diesel Emission Reduction Act — this highly successful, bi-partisan program can, if funded by Congress, reduce emissions from dirty diesel engines across the country while also providing economic benefits
  • Reducing Emissions from Shipping – the U.S. is part of an international program that will play an important role in reducing soot, especially for coastal areas
  • Cross State Air Pollution Rules — a robust cross-state air pollution program would reduce the power plant emissions that drift across state borders. Those emissions contribute to air quality problems, both locally and in downwind states. Over the summer, a deeply divided court struck down EPA’s “good neighbor” program that would have addressed this problem. We need a strong replacement program as soon as possible.

Those are just a few of the tools we can use to reduce the soot pollution in our air. They are all highly cost-effective, and broadly supported.

Many of them are being challenged in the courts and Congress, however — so we still have a lot of work to do. We must ensure that EPA can implement the programs that will reduce dangerous pollution like soot.

Some industrial interest groups are opposing the soot standards, but a lot more groups are cheering today’s announcement. The breadth of the support for this life-saving measure is tremendous.

Leading health groups including the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, American Thoracic Society, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and the March of Dimes have all expressed strong support for stronger soot standards.

They’ve been joined by a wide variety of other groups, representing moms, African Americans, faith communities, doctors and health professionals, teachers, environmental justice advocates, state leaders, communications workers, Hispanics, nurses, conservation and sportsmen groups, and business communities.

It’s rare to see an issue that can bring so many different people together. But it seems all of them recognize the importance of clean air.

I find it inspiring to be part of such a broad coalition, united by the common cause of improving the health and lives of every American.

This holiday season, I am grateful for the promise of cleaner air for all Americans, for the opportunity to work on an issue that unites so many diverse people, and for the reminder that clean air is not just an environmental or health right but an essential human right.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health, News, Policy / Comments are closed

The Costs Of Particulate Matter To American Health

This blog post was written by Dr. Bonnie New, former Director of Health Professionals for Clean Air.

Physicians treating patients with respiratory symptoms look for underlying causes or aggravators, and that includes exposure to air pollution.

If that pollution involves particulate matter – also known as soot – their concerns intensify, because of its well-known negative health impacts.

Many studies demonstrate associations between short- and long-term exposures to fine particle air pollution (PM2.5) and cardiopulmonary disease and mortality.

PM2.5 exposure is also associated with:

  • endocrine and reproductive dysfunction, including pre-term and low birth-weight babies;
  • increases in lung cancer;
  • increases in the development of vascular disease; and
  • increases in diabetes mortality.

In addition to aggravating existing asthma and other lung diseases, PM2.5 has been linked to retarded lung growth and reduced lung function in children, and even with de novo (newly occurring) development of respiratory problems in infants and children. Research also shows that reductions in PM2.5 are associated with reductions in adverse health effects and improved life expectancy.

It’s important to state here that currently, there is no identified level of PM2.5 that is known to not make people sick.

The groups most susceptible to adverse health effects from PM2.5 are infants, children, teens, the elderly, and those with existing lung and cardiovascular problems. Taken together, this represents almost half of the U.S. population.

Impacts to the Economy

When we see the large impacts of pollution on health, it’s impossible not to notice the financial impacts as well.

The economic impact of preventable illness and death related to soot pollution in the U.S. is staggering, estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars every year. The functional impact on the lives of those affected and their families is also dramatic.

As doctors, we deal with not only the challenges of diagnosis and treatment, but with the sadness, frustration and pain of people who can not live normal lives and children who can not enjoy just being kids.

It raises anger in physicians to hear from those opposing health-based air quality regulations on the basis that such regulations would be “too costly”. It’s not like the costs are avoided if regulations are not put into place. The costs are simply shifted to our patients, and to the health care system. The costs are paid for in lives impaired and lives lost, in kids who can’t run and play, in increasing hospitalizations and people missing work and school because they’re sick.

Shifting costs like this from polluters to the general public makes for healthy business profits, but sick and unhappy people. As patient advocates, doctors have good reason to be angry. The public, those current and future patients and families, do too.

Posted in Health / Comments are closed