Lung Association reports air quality gains, but warns many Americans still breathe dangerous air pollution

Yesterday, the American Lung Association released its annual air quality report, State of the Air 2011, identifying the United State’s most unhealthy cities by year-round and short term particle pollution and ozone. While this year’s findings show overall improvement in air quality across the country, vast steps are still required to ensure the health and safety of the American people in the future.  CAP’s Emily Bischof has the story.

There is reason to celebrate the success of EPA regulations and the Clean Air Act, established by a bipartisan congress in 1970. According to the newly released report, nearly all 25 cities listed  as the most polluted by ozone, and short/long-term particle pollution showed some improvement.

Nevertheless, despite encouraging improvements in air quality, the fight for clean air is far from over. The American Lung Association has also found that over half of Americans still reside in counties that that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution and 1 in 17 Americans live in places with dangerous levels of ozone, short term, and long term particle pollution. The health implications from these conditions range from increased asthma attacks and respiratory infection, to increased risk of cancer and stroke.

Yet not all Americans are hit in the same way. Those most at risk from the negative health impacts include children, senior citizens and people already suffering from asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema and cardiovascular disease as well as our nation’s poorest citizens.  Almost 37 million children under the age of 18, and 20 million people living at or below federal poverty level live in places with unhealthy levels of ozone.

The EPA is currently working to create new rules that will continue to curb these dangerous pollutants. Once established, the recently proposed Air Toxics Rule would “lead to exponential health benefits, including the prevention of 11,000 heart attacks and 17,000 premature deaths per year.”  Clean Air Act protections already in place saved over 160,000 lives in 2010 alone.  Our nation’s productivity and success relies upon a healthy and viable work force. Further, the health benefits created by EPA standards not only improve the quality of life for all Americans but also foster a robust and competitive economy.

While everyone can celebrate the success of cleaner air and healthier people, there are some that will deny credit where credit is due. In an article written by Steve Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute, pollution reduction detailed in recent studies is touted as a huge success, yet not once does he mention the EPA cap-and-trade programs that were responsible for the air quality improvements. Likewise, Conservatives continue to introduce bills that would effectively cut the funding and power that enable the EPA to establish and enforce these life saving regulations.

American’s of different ethnic backgrounds, faiths and political ideology are raising their collective voices in support of EPA regulations. According to an American Lung Association poll, 69 % of voters think the Clean Air Act standards should provide stricter limits on air pollution. The American people have recognized the value of a healthy environment yet their conservative representatives in congress would rather ally themselves with the very companies responsible for poisoning American air.

The American consensus has it right. Let us celebrate the small victory of cleaner air and move forward by allowing the EPA to continue protecting the health of American citizens with pollution regulations that have proven to effectively curb dangerous emissions.  If Congress were to pass bills that would eliminate the EPA’s ability to regulate harmful air pollutants, we would soon see these moderate improvements in air quality disappear.

By Emily Bischof, CAP energy intern.


4 Responses to Lung Association reports air quality gains, but warns many Americans still breathe dangerous air pollution

  1. Wit's End says:

    The entire report is essential reading but the following passages are important. First, the method of measuring pollution is the result of industry pressure (lawsuits and lobbying), and does not reflect that there is NO safe level of chronic exposure to ambient background levels of pollution because damage is cumulative over time:

    “For both ozone and short-term particle pollution, the analysis uses a weighted average number of days that allows recognition of places with higher levels of pollution…”

    Even the newer proposed level is inadequate to protect human health – and the report of course doesn’t include the well-established fact that vegetation, which is essential to life since it is at the bottom of the food chain, is even more sensitive to ozone exposure than humans, resulting in significant losses in crop yield and quality, while killing longer-lived species such as trees and shrubs that are exposed season after season.

    “The Lung Association urges the EPA to adopt a much tighter, more protective national air quality standard for ozone, set at 60 parts per billion. The EPA is currently considering strengthening the standard adopted in March 2008, which they now believe was not strong enough to protect health against the widespread harm from ozone smog. The 2008 decision set 75 ppb as the standard, despite the unanimous recommendations of EPA’s official science advisors that such a level would allow too much ozone to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act. The American Lung Association challenged the 2008 decision in court, along with several states, public health and environmental groups. In January 2010, the EPA proposed a range for the new standard that met the earlier recommendations of the expert panel and the nation’s leading public health organizations. EPA will announce the decision on the new standard the summer of 2011.”

    The failure of both the current and proposed acceptable levels to protect health is evident in this section:

    “Ozone concentrations by city in the summer months ranged from 16 percent to 80 percent lower than EPA currently considers safe. Researchers found that ozone at those lower levels was associated with deaths from cardiovascular disease, strokes, and respiratory causes.”

    Towards the end of the report are easy links to contact the EPA and legislators to support tighter restrictions. Attempts by well-funded “conservatives” to thwart EPA regulations are obscene and must be countered by concerned citizens.

  2. Anne says:

    Many parents I know have children with asthma. And now, my own mild case of exercise-induced asthma has grown to full-blown serious asthma, the kind that kills if not kept under control with steroids. It recently turned to pneumonia — scary stuff! The problem is, most of us don’t connect the dots between smokestack emissions from, say, coal fired power plants, and our personal health. I’ve always thought it would be a good idea to sell light switch plates that have a warning written on them: WARNING: The power used to turn on your lights may be hazardous to your health. And — all of us with asthma should be on a crusade to clean up our air — from motor vehicles, power plants, industrial sources, and all the rest. Breathing should not be, in an of itself, a dangerous proposition!

  3. Solar Jim says:

    Perhaps we should make the burning of mined petrochemicals illegal within one generation. Besides diseases such as life threatening asthma, climate contamination and changed weather is also developing into a killer.

    “Thou shall not kill, except for corporations” doesn’t quite seem justified, or just.

  4. Mond from Oz says:

    There is a view out there that natural gas (NG) is somehow ‘different’
    So could somebody please comment on the following. NG is just as much a fossil fuel as coal. It produces energy by oxidising carbon. It produces just as much CO2 per unit of energy as coal or oil. What it also does is produce less pollution by way aerosols, particles, etc.

    But aerosols are the (?)main source of negative climate forcing – they counter the global warming effect of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. So here’s James Hansen’s ‘faustian bargain’: clean up the particle / aerosol pollution, and you’ll cough less – but the warming effect gets a strong impetus as a result. IMV, the thing to go for is a rapid, total, world wide reduction in the use of carbon fuels. Within a time scale of 20 years. Absent that, we’re all stuffed.

    Now would somebody please tell me if I’ve got that wrong, about NG and CO2?