Respiratory Health Group Says U.S. Air Quality Poor

NEW YORK, New York, May 1, 2003 (ENS) - About half of the U.S. population continues to breathe unhealthy air, and the Bush administration's proposed changes to clean air laws would only make this situation worse, finds a new report from the American Lung Association.

The Bush administration is putting at risk laws that have helped protect public health for 40 years and is putting politics above clean air and public health, said John Kirkwood, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association (ALA), one of the nation's oldest and largest public health advocacy groups.

"Americans' right to breathe clean air is being threatened," Kirkwood said.

In its "State of the Air: 2003" report released today, the ALA reveals that current policies are barely holding the line on air pollution.

Some 137 million Americans continue to breathe unhealthy amounts of the air pollutant ozone, commonly referred to as smog. Four California metropolitan areas - Los Angeles, Fresno, Bakersfield, and Visalia-Tulare-Porterville - top the organization's list of smoggiest cities for the fourth year in a row. smog

Smog affects many American cities and is a problem that looks unlikely to be solved anytime soon. (Photo courtesy U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
The organization has analyzed data since the mid-1990s and cannot point to any significant ozone improvements "other than a few lucky changes in the weather," Kirkwood said.

Ozone is formed near the ground by the action of sunlight on hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides (NOx) and is primarily caused by emissions from motor vehicles, industrial emissions and chemical solvents.

Children, the elderly and individuals with chronic lung disease, such as asthma, are at greatest risk of breathing problems from ozone exposure.

The report, which examined ozone air quality data for 1999-2001, found at least 7.5 million adults and some two million children who suffer from asthma living in counties that received an "F" grade for ozone pollution.

The ALA found that five million fewer Americans lived in counties that received a failing grade compared to the prior period, but explained that this is due to cooler temperatures and that it is "insignificant."

The organization anticipates increasing numbers in its 2004 report, which will include data from the hot 2002 summer.

Ozone is typically worse in the summer, as heat, sunlight and less wind cause levels to rise.

The remaining top 10 smoggiest cities cited in the report are Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, Texas; Sacramento-Yolo and Merced, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Charlotte, North Carolina.

The report takes aim at the Bush administration for its clean air policies, which have been the subject of criticism from an array of sources, including state officials, public health groups and environmental organizations.

In a statement released Wednesday, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman said the agency is ready to work with states and local communities to comply with more protective ozone standards and defended her record on clean air. asthma

Air pollution disproportionately affects the young. (Photo courtesy Boston Public Schools)
"The Bush administration is committed to protecting the health of all Americans, especially those who are most vulnerable like our children and the elderly," said Whitman.

"We share the same goal as the American Lung Association," Whitman said. "We believe that the President's Clear Skies initiative, along with other EPA programs already underway, will achieve the results we all are looking for - and sooner than under current law."

But Kirkwood says that the administration's clean air policies will force the nation to "depend on Mother Nature to protect Americans from disease and death caused by breathing human made smog."

"We need to make major policy changes that will have a long term, positive impact on our smog problem," Kirkwood said.

The ALA recommends cleaner fuel standards, stricter pollution control requirements for motor vehicles, and for power plants, including those that will bring older power plants up to current emissions standards. The organization has praised the administration for its proposed standards that would reduce pollution from nonroad diesel vehicles, but has slammed its other policies.

Critics of the Clear Skies initiative say it would be a poor substitute for enforcing the existing Clean Air Act and would allow industries to spew more NOx, sulfur dioxide and arsenic than would be permitted if the current law was enforced. troops

Controlling emissions from power plants is a key part of the strategy to contain air pollution. (Photo courtesy U.S. National Park Service)
In addition to the Clear Skies initiative, the ALA report targets the Bush administration's planned revisions to the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act.

The New Source Review program requires some 17,000 industrial facilities to install new pollution controls when plants are expanded or modified. The administration says its changes give industry the clarity and flexibility needed to make the program efficient, but critics believe the proposed revisions will ease pollution controls for industry.

Nine northeastern U.S. states have sued to block the proposed New Source Review changes, and the ALA is party to another suit challenging the administration's rule revisions.

Several environmental groups held a rally at the EPA's headquarters today, delivering 200,000 public comments critical of the administration's New Source Review rule changes.

According to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, this is the highest number of public comments that has ever been submitted for any EPA rulemaking proposal. The public comment period ends Friday.

To access the full report, see http://www.lungusa.org

To access information or to comment on the EPA's New Source Review rule change, see http://www.epa.gov/nsr