The Environmental Protection Agency recently found that we’ve been doing it wrong for years; our air is not as clean or as safe as we once supposed. The agency’s smog pollution policy assessment, released in late August, found that current “safe” levels of smog pollution are actually not strong enough to protect our communities, our kids, or the air we breathe.
Doris Toles could tell you that.The Baltimore resident struggles with serious respiratory issues which are only made worse by the poor air quality in the city.
“I had my first asthma attack when I was two. I’m now living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD),” says Doris. “A person gets COPD like I have after years of asthma attacks permanently weaken the lungs, and there is no cure.”
Doctors told Doris that her asthma is triggered by pollution in the air where she lives. “I have to be very careful and keep my inhaler close at hand on days when smog levels are high.”
When smog is inhaled, the harm it does has been likened to getting a sunburn on your lungs. Thankfully, we’ve got a chance to put things right. This December, the EPA will propose new smog pollution protections that can get America’s air quality back on track.
“Safe” smog pollution levels were first lowered in 2008 from 88 parts per billion (ppb) to 75 ppb, but it turns out those protections were not enough to ensure clean, safe air for children and vulnerable populations living near the sources of this pollution. New recommendations from scientists since the 2008 protections have found that we need to ratchet them down to 60 ppb, in order to guard against dangerous air. The recent smog pollution policy assessment echoed this sentiment, recommending that the levels be reduced to a range of 60 to 70 ppb.
While we applaud the EPA’s assessment for acknowledging the need to strengthen the current safeguards, it’s important to note that the devil is in the details, which is why we need your help. Thousands of lives hang in the balance between 60 ppb and 70 ppb, and are pushing hard for the EPA to propose 60 ppb protections in December.
At Sierra Club, we have strongly advocated for a 60 ppb standard for years because the science is clear that it will better protect families from smog pollution from power plants and tailpipe emissions. Smog pollution can trigger respiratory problems like asthma attacks and cardiovascular problems. Over time, continued exposure can even lead to premature death.
Doris has lost friends and family to severe asthma attacks. For her and many others, it’s a matter of life and death. “Cleaning up this pollution helps people like me stay alive,” she says.
A 60 ppb standard would safeguard families, especially young children and the elderly, from these health hazards and save roughly $100 billion in health care costs. The EPA also estimates that cutting back to safer levels of smog pollution (60 ppb) would prevent 12,000 premature deaths, 21,000 hospitalizations and the stop the loss of 2.5 million work and school days each year. In view of this, the smog pollution policy assessment is an important step toward holding polluters accountable and lifting this huge burden off our communities.
In the months ahead, we work to secure the strongest possible protections for those who need them most. Let EPA know you support strong standards here.
--Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director