The Science Is Clear: Soot Harms Children

BY ON August 6, 2012

Photo of activists and children at a clean air rally

This post was written by Molly Rauch and Gretchen Alfonso:

We understand now why the new soot standards from EPA are NOT STRONG ENOUGH–we recently saw a vivid demonstration of the politics that undercut the protection of our children. And as moms, it left us plenty angry.

The gentleman sounded perfectly reasonable. Reading his written comments to a panel of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff in Philadelphia last month, he was one of dozens of people, including the two of us, who had signed up to tell EPA what we thought about their proposed standards to regulate PM 2.5, or soot, a deadly air pollutant that comes out of coal plants, tailpipes, and diesel engines.

This man might have sounded reasonable, but what he was saying was decidedly not reasonable, and its implications could cause permanent health damage to our children and generations of children to come. As a representative of the National Mining Association, he was saying the science on the subject of soot pollution is uncertain.

Woman testifying As moms, we declare this kind of industry blather misleading and immoral.

Thousands of peer-reviewed studies have established the relationship between fine particle pollution exposure and a range of serious health effects, from premature mortality to heart attacks to respiratory effects such as bronchitis and asthma. Made up of a complex mix of particles so tiny that they are invisible to the naked eye, fine particle pollution is easily inhaled and lodges deep in the lung.

In addition to causing premature death on the order of 130,000 every year (car accidents kill the relatively small total of 36,000), it also interferes with lung development. Young children, like our combined five, are especially vulnerable to the damage from soot. Early lung development that is happening today will shape their lifelong health status.

Current science also suggests a causal relationship between long-term soot exposure and low birth weight, as well as infant mortality from respiratory causes. This damage to babies is especially troubling to us as mothers.

The research has firmly established that these effects are being seen at relatively low levels–levels that today would be categorized by the EPA as meeting the federal standard for clean air. That’s why we, as mothers, insist that the EPA changes the current status quo.

Families across the country know that dirty air harms our health. Both of our families can count among us a member with breathing problems: Molly suffers from adult-onset asthma-like symptoms, and Gretchen’s youngest was prescribed an inhaler just weeks before her first birthday. To date, almost 10,000 members of our organization, Moms Clean Air Force, have sent comments to the EPA from Pennsylvania and across the nation in support of tightening soot standards.

Pareants and children at clean air rally

We are not scientists, but we make it our business to follow the science. The fact that soot pollution harms health has been affirmed by the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Cardiology, among others.

To say that the science on this subject is uncertain is like saying that we can’t be sure that cigarettes cause lung cancer. In a word, it’s preposterous.

To add insult to injury, soon after the hearings we learned that the White House watered down the science-based rule from the EPA, pressuring the agency to release a proposed standard of 12 to 13 micrograms per square meter, instead of the original language of 12 micrograms per square meter. It sounds like a small change, but when you are talking about 130,000 premature deaths each year, not to mention all the other serious health effects, this is a significant alteration. We are disturbed by this apparent attempt to inject politics into what is supposed to be a scientific review process.

EPA is required to follow the science, not the special interests of the fossil fuel industry, or even the policy opinion of the White House, when setting its standards for air pollution.

We applaud EPA’s efforts to tighten its soot standard, and we urge the agency to finalize an even more protective standard than the one it proposed. Nothing less than our children’s bodies are on the line.


TOPICS: Activism, Asthma, Clean Air Rules and Regulations, Motherhood, Pennsylvania, Pollution, Science