Today the American Lung Association released its annual report, State of the Air 2012. There’s good news and bad news.
The good news is that air quality is improving in our most polluted cities, due in large part to the regulatory requirements of the Clean Air Act. The bad news, according to Janice Nolen, Assistant Vice President for National Policy and Advocacy at American Lung Association, is that “the standards are still too weak.” She explained that both the particle standard and the ozone standard established by EPA are at levels that can harm our health. Scientists have been recommending that EPA lower the allowable amounts of these pollutants in the air in order to protect health, but it hasn’t happened yet.
In other words, “we have been making progress,” she said. And, “we still have a long way to go.”
The report gives grades for US cities’ air quality. Most polluted city? For ozone pollution, it’s Los Angeles. For particle pollution, Bakersfield, CA. Least polluted city? Santa Fe, NM. Check out this INFOGRAPHIC for more.
As Moms Clean Air Force and our wonderful members know, air pollution is really bad for us and for our children. “We know that it causes premature death, heart attacks, stroke, and asthma attacks,” says Nolen. There is still some debate about whether it causes the development of asthma, as well as lung cancer. But she says that the evidence is pointing in that direction as well.
Nolen said that cleaning up the air is important for all kids, not just those with asthma. “We know that 80% of kid’s lungs develop after they are born,” she said. “It is unhealthy for all kids to breathe dirty air.”
What needs to be done to make our air cleaner?
- The Cross-State Air Pollution rule, as well as the proposed Mercury and Air Toxics standards, are facing challenges in the courts and in the halls of Congress. We need both of these rules to be implemented. By focusing on power plants, these rules will go a long way toward cleaning up the air of the Eastern part of the country, where power plants are a major contributor to air pollution.
- We need cleaner diesel engines. New engines coming on to the market are cleaner due to regulations. But the old ones last for decades. We need to do more to get them retrofitted.
- We need tighter controls on gas vehicles. Industry is interested in preventing this from happening. But gas combustion leads to air pollution. If cars are more efficient there will be less air pollution, even if people drive more.
- We need to pay attention to growing sources of air pollution, such as natural gas fracking. Nolen expressed enthusiasm over EPA’s new standards for air emissions from the development of natural gas resources.
- Strengthen EPA’s ozone and particle pollution standards. Science tells us that even where air is meeting the standards set by EPA, people are getting sick from that air.
- Finally, Nolen said, “we need to make sure that the Clean Air Act is protected.” Let your members of Congress know that you care about the Act. “Tell them: Don’t roll back these essential protections!” Lest you think such rollbacks are theoretical, Nolen reminded me that the Gasoline Regulations Act of 2012, which would prevent the EPA from finalizing air pollution regulations until their effect on gas prices is analyzed, is currently moving through the House of Representatives.
I asked Nolen what she thought were the top things parents should do to protect their children’s from the harmful health effects of air pollution. Here are her top tips:
- Reduce exposure to major roadways. Parents should be aware that breathing within 300-500 meters of a major roadway is hazardous. Don’t let your children exercise regularly in these areas.
- Check your Air Quality Index. You can find yours here. Nolen says, “follow the guidance related to that Index, whether it’s to avoid exercising outside or stay indoors altogether.”
- Research your school bus fleet. Diesel buses with old engines create a lot of particle pollution for their young riders. You can find out more, including resources for how to clean up a school fleet, here.
Thank you, ALA, for giving us this important information about the air quality in our cities.