Tag Archives: smog

Protecting public health by reducing climate change


BOSTON – The American Lung Association of the Northeast hosted a roundtable discussion today on climate change and its impact on health. Experts in the fields of medicine, state government, public policy and public health gathered at Harvard Medical School to express their concerns about rising temperatures and pollution rates resulting from climate change and its consequences on lung and heart health. Diane Pickles, Vice President of M+R Strategies who consults with the Lung Association on their Healthy Air Campaign, served as moderator.

Scientists warn that the buildup of carbon pollution will create warmer temperatures, which will increase the risk of unhealthful smog (ozone) levels. This is particularly harmful to those who suffer with chronic respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD. According to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2013 report, nearly a third of Massachusetts residents currently live in areas of failing or near-failing air quality.

“Air pollution is particularly dangerous for children, whose lungs are still growing, and the elderly, who endure more chronic health problems,” said Edward Miller, Senior Vice President of Policy for the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “Climate change only makes the situation worse, by amplifying the amount of pollution we are forced to breathe.”

“The protection of our environment is not just a matter of conserving resources for the future, it is about making our economy stronger by growing clean energy jobs and promoting public health for all Massachusetts citizens,” said Senator Marc R. Pacheco (D-Taunton), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, and Vice-Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health. “In Massachusetts, with laws such as the Global Warming Solutions Act, we are acting on our responsibility to cut down greenhouse gas emissions for the safety of citizens today and for generations to come. Moving away from a fossil fuel economy will protect the environment, improve our public health, and support a vibrant clean energy economy in Massachusetts.”

“Patients with asthma and COPD are particularly sensitive to changes in weather, and one of the major consequences of climate change has been an increase in days with extreme heat,” said Dr. Mary Rice, a Pulmonary & Critical Care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and research fellow in air pollution and lung disease at Harvard Medical School. “Acute rises in temperature and humidity are associated with increased emergency room visits for asthma, especially in children, and increased mortality for people with COPD. Climate models predict that in the coming decades, extreme heat events are likely to become still more frequent.”

In addition to serving as event moderator, Pickles shared her personal story about managing her son’s asthma. “It is terrifying to watch your child struggle with an asthma attack. For kids like mine, poor air quality days threaten health and significantly impact quality of life,” she said. Nearly one in ten children in Massachusetts suffers from asthma.

The goal of the Climate Health Roundtable discussion was to heighten awareness to the impact of climate change on health and to discuss educational and public policy solutions for reducing its effects on the Commonwealth.

ALA 2013 “Healthy Air Agenda”

American Lung Association in Massachusetts Releases Top Priorities of 2013 “Healthy Air Agenda”
Waltham – The American Lung Association in Massachusetts released the priorities of its 2013 Healthy Air Agenda, a plan of action for the Obama Administration and the 113th Congress that will ensure the Clean Air Act is implemented and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains its authority to safeguard the air Americans breathe.

Despite ongoing interference from Big Polluters and some Members of Congress, the Lung Association in Massachusetts and its allies have made progress on cleaning up the air and will work to continue to do so throughout the coming year, using the Agenda as a roadmap.
The Agenda is organized into four key areas of focus with additional details as to which regulations, rules or activities will remain of focus within each area.  These include:

·         Smokestacks – Clean up coal-fired power plants (both existing and new)
Power plants, in particular those fired by coal, are a major source of hazardous pollutants, and are the biggest source of carbon pollution that is linked to climate change.

·         Tailpipes – Clean up gasoline and vehicles
The EPA needs to update standards to control smog-forming and particle pollution from passenger vehicles by reducing the amount of sulfur in gasoline and setting tighter tailpipe pollution limits on new vehicles.

·         Funding Research & Enforcement
Preventing additional cuts to the EPA will enable the agency to effectively monitor air quality, implement critical air quality programs to protect public health and meet national clean air goals.

·         Implementation without weakening or delays
To truly improve the health of millions of people across the nation and save thousands of lives every year, full implementation of all Clean Air Act updates, rules, and standards is needed – without threats to these life-saving protections.

“In the coming year, it is important that polluted air continue to be viewed and understood as a pervasive threat, affecting our most vulnerable populations here in Massachusetts,” said Katie King, Director of Public Policy of the American Lung Association in Massachusetts.  Some of those who are most susceptible to air pollution include children, seniors, those with lung disease, heart disease and diabetes, people with low incomes, and those who work and exercise outdoors.

King expressed concerns that the looming, automatic federal budget cuts due on March 1 will harm public health by reducing the EPA’s ability to monitor air quality, ensure compliance with air pollution laws, and enforce violations.  “Without an environmental cop on the beat, we could be subjecting the residents to breathing dirtier air and jeopardizing their health,” she said.

The American Lung Association’s 2012 State of the Air Report found that 2.7 million Massachusetts residents, more than a third in the state, live in a county with failing air quality.  Six counties received an F grade for ozone pollution.
By identifying these four critical areas of focus, and key solutions for addressing each, the Lung Association in Massachusetts will be able to devote focused efforts to the life-saving work that protects the Clean Air Act and the health of millions of people across the country and here in the Bay State.

One in 10 adults and children suffer from asthma in Mass.

By Barbara Kwetz Allan

I look out my kitchen window and see another glorious, crystal-clear day in Massachusetts, yet I know from my professional life that unseen, microscopic particles of air pollution are wreaking havoc on so many with respiratory ailments and heart conditions. Most of us walk through our daily lives unaware of the price our most vulnerable – children, elderly, and others with compromised health – are paying, as air pollution irritates lung airways and infiltrates bloodstreams.

This point is not lost on my friend whose son suffers with asthma. “Most people don’t know that pollution can aggravate asthma,” she said. Having rushed her son unable to breathe to the emergency room more than once, my friend is hyperaware of the need to reduce the things that exacerbate his asthma. She does what she can around their house to limit asthma triggers, but feels helpless when she lets him walk outside.

On December 14, my friend’s son and others with chronic diseases may get some relief if the Obama Administration chooses to support stronger limits on particle pollution, commonly called soot. These limits, called the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, ensure that everyone in the nation is protected based on the most current public health science.

The present standard, set in 1997, no longer reflects what the most current science shows to be protective of public health. In fact, many are living under the false sense of security that the air is safe to breathe when it is not. Hundreds of scientific studies have confirmed that millions of asthma attacks, as well as heart attacks, strokes, and even deaths, could be prevented every year if the standard were strengthened.

The black smoke that spews out of smokestacks, chimneys, and from the tailpipes of countless vehicles contains billions of particles of soot. The body reacts to soot in much the same way it does cigarette smoke. These microscopic particles are easily inhaled and inflame not only the lungs, but all of the body’s essential life systems. In fact, breathing soot has been compared to taking a piece of sandpaper and rubbing it against the tissue of the lungs.

The 2011 Sick of Soot report, which the American Lung Association coauthored, concluded that adopting an annual standard of 11 μg/m3 and a daily standard of 25 μg/m3 would provide the most health benefits. Most notably, these more protective standards would prevent as many as 35,700 deaths from occurring annually as a direct result of breathing in soot -almost enough lives saved to fill every seat in historic Fenway Park.

Massachusetts has the unfortunate bragging rights of having asthma rates that are among the highest in the nation, with approximately with the disease. Unfortunately, children suffer most, as their lungs do not fully develop until they reach early adulthood. Early exposure to particle pollution during this critical development period can hinder lungs from maturing properly and cause respiratory problems that children will carry with them for a lifetime.

Asthma is a common chronic condition in children and is a leading cause of emergency room visits and missed school days in Massachusetts. Although the human suffering associated with asthma is great, so is the cost to our wallets. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, total charges for asthma hospitalizations in Massachusetts in 2010 were $113 million – a 126 percent increase since 2000. Taxpayers are expected to pay 66 percent of those costs.

It is a shame that we live in a state that prides itself on being a leader in the health, environmental, and renewable energy fields, yet our residents are suffering at the mercy of a national pollution standard that is outdated and does not provide adequate public health protection.

For the sake of children like my friend’s son and many others who suffer with asthma or compromised health, President Obama must ensure that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopts the most protective soot standard possible. Anything less places the health of current and future generations at risk.

Barbara Kwetz Allan is a board member of the American Lung Association in Massachusetts.