Air Pollution and Our Health
May 3, 2011
half of Americans live an area which is heavily polluted, the American Lung
Association stated in their annual State
of the Air Report released last week. What does this mean? The roughly 157
million people living in these areas are at a high risk for asthma, respiratory
disease and premature death.
cities have shown improvement from last year’s report, but how much of an
improvement is it if nearly half of us are breathing air that is harming our
cleanup of our polluted air, instituted under the Clean Air Act, has been
ongoing for over forty years. The Clean Air Act has been a public health success.
The EPA states that the Act has prevented nearly 160,000 premature deaths. Currently,
it is under fire, as Congress reevaluates the controls in place for clean air
and public health.
defense of the Clean Air Act, this week Physicians for Social Responsibility is
hosting health professionals from around the nation to speak out for the Clean
Air Act in Washington DC.
power plants are a major source of air pollution in the US. They release 84
different pollutants into the air including mercury, arsenic, formaldehyde and
dioxins, making them among the largest contributors to particulate pollution,
global warming and ozone. These pollutants cause a range of health effects:
respiratory infections, lung diseases, asthma attacks and heart attacks.
Currently, the US has 440 operating power plants in 46 states, and the energy
that is produced from coal powers about half the nation.
Other sources of
air pollution include diesel trucks that deliver our goods, and the cars or
SUVs that we drive every day. Along with the coal plants that light our
homes, these sources cause particle pollution, and ozone formation. Particle
pollution is a cocktail of solid materials and gases, many of which are smaller
than the diameter of a strand of hair. You can see it in the exhaust from cars
and the smokestacks of industrial buildings; in other cases the particles are
so small as to be invisible to the naked eye.
harm caused by particulate matter includes respiratory diseases such as chronic
bronchitis and asthma; along with heart attacks strokes and cancer. Recent
studies show that particle pollution alone causes an estimated 60,000 deaths a
year. A recent study in California, the state with the most polluted cities in
the nation, estimates that 9,200 people die annually in the state from
breathing in particle pollution. Some of the main causes were heart attacks,
strokes, cancer and heart disease.
in particular ground-level ozone, is formed when nitrogen oxides and volatile
organic compounds (VOC) interact with heat and sunlight. Ozone is linked to
lung cancer and also can harm the respiratory and cardiovascular system. Highly-polluted
areas place those with preexisting lung conditions, elderly and children most
at risk for developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as lung
most cities and counties have shown improvement since the last report release
in 2010, there is still a long way to go. The push-back from some policymakers
puts our health at risk. It is estimated that by 2020 the Clean Air Act will
prevent over 200,000 premature deaths.
week PSR is hosting health professionals from a dozen states across the nation
to speak out in Washington DC, in support of the Clean Air Act. My next blog
will feature interviews from some of our participating health professionals
about air pollution, the Clean Air Act and what it can continue to do for us
and our environment.
more information on air pollution and our health please visit us at PSR.org.
you would like to see the state of your air, use the American Lung
Association’s interactive map at http://www.stateoftheair.org/.
American Lung Association, "State of the Air Report: 2011", April 2011.
Welker- Hood, ScD, MSN RN, Barbara Gottlieb, John Suttles, JD, LLM, Molly Rauch,
MPH, "The Clean Air Act: A Proven Tool for Healthy Air", Physicians for Social
Responsibility, April 2011.
H. Lockwood, MD FAAN, Kristen Welker- Hood, SCD MSN RN, Molly Rauch, MPH,
Barbara Gottlieb, "Coal'sAssault on Human Health: An Executive Summary"
, Physicians for Social Responsibility, November 2009.