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Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals, and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.


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What is the most important achievement we've gained through air pollution management? What remains to be done to safeguard public health from air pollution?

Posted by Molly Rauch, MPH on April 14, 2011

Air pollution is one of the most important environmental health threats of our time, contributing to four of the five leading causes of mortality in the United States: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory diseases. Air pollution such as particulate matter, nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide, ozone, heavy metals, and other air toxics damage our airways, lungs, heart, and circulatory systems. Exposure to these pollutants increase hospitalizations and emergency room visits, time lost from school and work, and premature deaths due to cardiopulmonary disease.

The Clean Air Act (CAA) controls the emissions of pollutants from the most widespread sources of dangerous air pollution: coal-fired power plants, motor vehicles, heavy industry, and refineries. The Act has resulted in significant improvements in public health, including major reductions in blood lead levels nationwide and reductions in premature deaths, illnesses, and hospitalizations stemming from air pollution exposure. Yet despite advancements in pollution controls, as many as 175 million people in the US live in areas that exceed Clean Air Act standards for air pollution.

At a time when the US Congress seeks to limit the scope of the EPA, weakening its ability to regulate air pollution, PSR’s experts examine the public health importance of air pollution management: What is the most important achievement we've gained through air pollution management? What remains to be done to safeguard public health from air pollution?

The views expressed in these essays are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Responses: Robert Amundson, Douglas M. Brugge and Wig Zamore, Paul Epstein and Molly Rauch, Lin Kaatz Chary, Jon LevyAlan H. Lockwood, Joanne L. Perron, Kristen Welker-Hood

Robert Amundson

Since implementation of the Clear Air Act of 1970 people across the country breathe healthier air because of much lower concentrations of carbon monoxide, acidic gases of sulfur and nitrogen, lead, particulates, and ozone. Read more »

Douglas M. Brugge and Wig Zamore

In the 1990s there was a shocking discovery. After more than 20 years of federal regulations aimed at reducing negative impacts of air pollution and clearing skies above American cities, two major studies found that the pollution that remained was still strongly associated with mortality. Read more »

Paul Epstein and Molly Rauch

Energy is essential to our daily lives, and is the foundation of our modern, industrial society. But fossil fuels, which feed the energy appetite of our nation and that of most developed nations, cost our society dearly in terms of health, environmental, and economic impacts. Read more »

Lin Kaatz Chary

Living in Northwest Indiana, in the midst of a highly industrialized area, one of my favorite stories was told by Jean Sheppard, a humorist who came from Hammond, IN. Born in 1921, he grew up near a factory that produced insecticides. Read more »

Jon Levy

While there have been many achievements during the 40-year tenure of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) provided tremendous and tangible benefits at a few different levels. Read more »

Alan H. Lockwood

Other essays this month will point to specific health-related outcomes that are attributable to the Clean Air Act (CAA) and its amendments. Here, I focus at the overall impact of the Act on our economy. Read more »

Joanne L. Perron

Adults breathe at a resting rate of approximately 12 breaths per minute, thus obtaining 3000 gallons of air per day. Exercise, stress, pregnancy, and many medical problems will increase the rate and amount. Read more »

Kristen Welker-Hood
The Clean Air Act (CAA) is one of the most important and effective public health laws ever enacted. Read more »


Jan Marquart said ..

I am concerned about the chem trails sprayed over Austin. Documented ER visits, according to studies, show an increase of bloody noses, asthma attacks, headaches, and nausea directly after the plans emit noxious chemicals into the air. Let's stop it now!

April 17, 2012
katharina oginawati said ..

In Indonesia the farmers have been not used protection to sray the pesticide and they have been mixed all of the pesticide

May 2, 2011

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