PSR Co-Launches Clean Air Promise Campaign
Statement from Peter Wilk, MD
July 26, 2011
Air pollution is damaging America’s health. It is hurting people, and it is killing
I’m a doctor; I’m also the father of an asthmatic
son. Like too many Americans, I know
about asthma attacks first-hand. Asthma
is at epidemic levels today: An
estimated 20 million Americans suffer from asthma – that’s 1 in 15. It is one of this country's most common and costly diseases.
What many people don’t know is that one of the major triggers of asthma is air
pollution. Specifically, ozone: a pollutant that forms from common air
pollutants (nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds) in the presence of
heat and sunlight. That’s why we get
ozone alerts in the summer, like in the heat wave we’ve been sweating
through. And where do nitrogen oxides
and volatile organic compounds come from?
They are emitted in the pollution emitted by cars and coal-fired power
Asthma is painful, very
frightening, and it can be life-threatening – in fact, 11 people die from asthma in this
country every day. But
it’s only one serious health impact from air pollution. In fact, air pollution is responsible for
even more dangerous health effects.
- Not surprisingly, since we breathe it
in, air pollution causes or contributes to many serious respiratory diseases,
or diseases of the lung. These include
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, emphysema,
and lung cancer. Many of these are caused
by to particulate air pollution – particles which enter and lodge deep in the
lungs. These particles may be visible as
soot – or they may be so small, they are visible only with a high-powered
microscope. But it’s a clear case of
“what you can’t see, can hurt you.”
It can even kill you. The
smallest particles are able to penetrate most deeply into the lungs. As many as 24,000 adults die prematurely each
year due to particulate matter in the air.
- Many people don’t realize that air
pollution also damages the cardiovascular system – the heart and arteries. Pollutants have been shown to lead to
arterial occlusion (blockage of arteries, leading to heart attacks) and infarct
formation (tissue death due to oxygen deprivation, leading to permanent heart
damage). Air pollutants are also
associated with arrhythmia – cardiac rhythm disturbances that are potentially
- In addition to the heart and lungs,
pollution also affects the nervous system, especially the brain. The same mechanisms that affect the arteries
around the heart also apply to the arteries that nourish the brain. This can lead to stroke.
The brain is also
damaged by mercury, an air pollutant generated by burning coal in coal-fired
power plants. Mercury falls out of the
air with rain, flows into rivers and lakes, and enters the food chain. Mercury is a major neurotoxin, causing
neurological and development impairments and lifelong loss of
In addition to hurting our health, air pollution is
also driving up health care costs. Did
you know that in 2005, nearly 1.8 million emergency room visits were attributed
to asthma? If we had cleaned up our air,
many of those visits would have been prevented.
Think of the cost savings, as well as the unnecessary days lost from
school and from work, if we enjoyed clean air in this country.
As a doctor, I have to think about prevention, as well as treatment and
cures. So it’s important to know, Where
does this dangerous air pollution come from?
Most of it comes from just a few types of polluters: coal-fired power plants; industrial boilers;
cement kilns; cars. That’s good news,
because we already know how to slash the pollution coming from these
sources. What’s needed is the
willingness to step up and say:
Enough. It’s our health -- our
children’s health, our families’, our neighbors’, our own. None of us should have to bear the pain, and
sometimes the terrible loss, inflicted by air pollution.
For that reason, Physicians for Social
Responsibility is proud to step up as a participant in the Clean Air Promise
Campaign. We have adapted the Promise
just a little bit so that our members, as doctors, nurses and other health
professionals, can make their own, medical promise:
“As a health professional, I promise to
protect America's children and families from dangerous air pollution.
toxics and pollutants cause – every year –thousands of asthma attacks, hospital
admissions, cases of lung disease, damage to infants’ and children’s developing
brains, cancers, and deaths.
is too high a price for the American people to pay.
a health professional, I will support clean air policies and other protections
that scientists and public health professionals have recommended to the EPA to
safeguard our air quality.”