By: Elizabeth Bechard, Senior Policy Analyst, Moms Clean Air Force
Date: February 21, 2023
About: Environmental Protection Agency Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2015-0072
To: Environmental Protection Agency
My name is Elizabeth Bechard, and I am a Senior Policy Analyst with Moms Clean Air Force, which is an organization of 1.5 million parents around the country. I live in Vermont with my husband and children. One of the areas I work on is the intersection between our environment and our mental health.
I’m here today to urge EPA to set a more protective standard for particle pollution of 8 micrograms per cubic meter for the annual standard and 25 micrograms per cubic meter for the daily standard. Stronger standards are key for protecting all aspects of our well-being.
When we talk about particle pollution, we often focus on its impact on our hearts and lungs, but the truth is that it affects nearly every organ in our bodies, including our brains. Exposure to polluted air can cause inflammation in our brains, and an emerging body of research links particle pollution to a range of troubling impacts on our mental and cognitive health. These impacts include increased risk of anxiety, symptoms of depression, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Prenatal and early childhood exposure to particle pollution has been linked to disrupted brain development, poorer behavioral function, and cognitive impairment in children younger than my own.
Air pollution’s other numerous health impacts also take a toll on our mental and emotional well-being. Throughout this hearing, you will listen to people talk about particle pollution’s potential to exacerbate asthma in children, send people to the hospital with heart attacks and strokes, contribute to babies being born too small and too early, and in the most heartbreaking of cases, cause premature death. Every single one of the hundreds of thousands of health problems caused by particle pollution every year causes unnecessary pain, stress, and trauma for individuals and families.
Research tells us that an annual standard of 8 would prevent up to 16,000 premature deaths each year—but no amount of scientific analysis can measure the heartbreak and grief of a family whose loved one is gone too soon.
Research tells us that 46,000 emergency department visits for childhood asthma would be avoided with a stronger annual standard than the one currently on the table—but no amount of data can size up the trauma for a child struggling for breath, and a parent desperate for help.
And research tells us that the burden of dirty air is unequally distributed, and that across all EPA regions, people of color are disproportionately impacted by the short-term spikes in particle pollution that the proposed standards decline to address by failing to strengthen the 24-hour standard. But no amount of number-crunching can adequately capture the mental health burden of environmental racism that literally fills the air in a country where people of color already tell us they can’t breathe.
Our mental, cognitive, and emotional well-being matter. The contributing factors to any mental, cognitive, or emotional health challenge are complex, and often multiple contributing factors converge in individuals. But the air we breathe should never be one of these factors.
The cost of setting particle pollution standards that aren’t strong enough isn’t just the avoidable deaths, emergency room visits, and asthma attacks that scientists can model with advanced analyses, it’s the extraordinary toll that breathing dirty air takes on our brains and psyches. And it’s a toll we know is unevenly and unjustly distributed.
Once again, I ask EPA to set an annual particle pollution standard of 8 micrograms per cubic meter and a 24-hour standard of 25 micrograms per cubic meter. As the World Health Organization has stated: “There is no health without mental health.” Thank you.