January 24, 2010 – EPA Standards and Better Health
By Tami Biddle, CAB Executive Board Member
Earlier this month the Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulations that would further tighten restrictions on smog. A composite of the word “smoke” and “fog,” the term smog has been used for years to describe the polluted air that often hangs over congested areas with high levels of traffic and industry. Smog contains several substances detrimental to human health. These include, in particular, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and fine particulate matter known as PM 2.5. In recent decades our understanding of the very serious health risks of air pollution has grown more sophisticated and more detailed as scientific studies documenting these risks have been undertaken around the world.
A study by the World Health Organization, published in the summer of 2004, concluded that air pollution increased “the risk of cardiopulmonary disease and a reduction in life expectancy of a year or more for people living in European cities.” The researchers indicated that these effects could occur “at very low concentrations that were previously considered safe.” Overall, they stated that “the evidence is sufficient to strongly recommend further policy action to reduce levels of air pollutants, including particulates, nitrogen dioxide and ozone.” Recent research has continued to bear out these alarming findings.
A study just published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (AJRCCM), for instance, found that ambient levels of nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter, PM 2.5, “were independently associated with pneumonia hospitalization in older adults.” Two other recent AJRCCM articles, one based on a study in the Czech Republic and one based on a study in Mexico City, found that young children were especially susceptible to air pollution-related illness.
A study published in the December 2009 issue of the journal, Chest , is of particular concern to those who have asthma. The researchers found that higher levels of certain air pollutants, in particular ozone and nitrogen dioxide, reduced the effectiveness of inhalers used by asthma patients.
In recent studies P.M. 2.5, which is small enough to embed itself deep into body tissues, has been particularly linked to heart disease. A 2009 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, titled “The Effect of Fine and Coarse Particulate Air Pollution on Mortality: A National Analysis,” concluded that there was “an increased risk of mortality for all and specific causes associated with PM 2.5.” Findings like these are the reason why the Clean Air Board of Central PA is so concerned about PM 2.5 levels in our region.
Overall, the evidence is clear – and worrisome. In the same way that scientists warned us, over time, of the profound hazards of cigarette smoking, they are now warning us about the profound hazards of air pollution. In the face of such evidence, it is time for our regulatory agencies and legislators to act. The recent proposed tightening of smog regulations by the EPA is fully warranted, and reveals a government agency functioning as it should. The cost of implementing the new standards will be more than made up for by increases in worker productivity, and reductions in existing health care costs. The EPA’s action should be welcomed by citizens of Central Pennsylvania, where air quality is among the poorest in the nation. It is now time for Pennsylvanians to do their part, helping the EPA to bring cleaner air to our region. A failure to accept the implications of this evidence would be a failure to accept responsibility for our future, and for the health of our children and our elderly in particular.
Resources and References:
B. Neupane, et al, “Long Term Exposure to Ambient Air Pollution and Risk of Hospitalization with Community-acquired Pneumonia in Older Adults,” American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine , 181, 47-53, 2010
I. Hertz-Picciotto, et al, “Early Childhood Lower Respiratory Illness and Air Pollution,” AJRCCM , 115 (10), 1510-1518, 2007
R. Rohas-Martinez, “Lung Function Growth in Children with Long-Term Exposure to Air
Pollutants in Mexico City,” AJRCCM 176, 377-384, 2007
Environmental Health Perspectives : http :// ehp . niehs . nih . gov 07/24/02 04:21 L.
Hernandez-Cadena, F. Holguin, et al, “Increased Levels of Outdoor Air Pollutants Are Associated With Reduced Bronchodilation in Children With Asthma,” Chest , December 2009 136 : 1529 – 3
World Health Organization Report, “Health Aspects of Air Pollution,” June 2004 http://www.euro.who.int/ document/E83080.pdf
Zanobetti A, Schwartz J, “The Effect of Fine and Coarse Particulate Air Pollution on Mortality: A National Analysis ” Environmental Health Perspectives 117:898-903. 2009
“National Cost of Air Pollution” (ICAP) study released by the Canadian Medical Association, summarized by Medical News Today in an article called “Illness Cost of Air Pollution Underscores Need for Lung Health Action Plan: The Lung Association,” 14 August 2008.