Warning: Breathing Can Cause More Heart Attacks than Cocaine

You read it right. It seems that our addiction to dirty energy has taken another toll on our health, this time surpassing the effects of another deadly addiction—cocaine use. According to a new study published in The Lancet journal, air pollution triggers more heart attacks nationwide than cocaine.

The study by scientists at two universities in Belgium calculated the risks for 14 heart attack triggers in the U.S. population. The scientists found that air pollution, such as that generated by cars and power plants, causes more heart attacks than cocaine and at the same rate as negative emotions, heavy physical exertion, and excessive alcohol use.

Standing alone this is disturbing. In light of recent attacks by many in Congress against our air pollution standards, this report is downright frightening.

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is a major environmental hazard to health, causing approximately 2 million premature deaths worldwide per year. WHO also recognizes a crucial fact: exposure to air pollutants is largely beyond the control of individuals. We require public authorities to act at the national, regional, and even international levels to reduce pollution and protect our health.

Here in the U.S., House Republicans are already using their new majority status to eliminate essential health and environmental safeguards that have been in place for years. As NRDC’s Executive Director Peter Lehner wrote following February’s House budget vote, “Under the guise of deficit reduction, the GOP launched an unprecedented assault on public health, clean air, fresh water, open space and wildlife. This attack on our environment won't take a nibble out of our deficit, but it will take the teeth out of needed protections.” So while we lose needed protections, corporate polluters like Big Oil, cement makers and coal companies win.

Efforts in Congress to roll back essential air pollution standards that protect our children each day from asthma, bronchitis, and other lung diseases are underway despite the fact that EPA announced this week staggering numbers about just how much the Clean Air Act protects our health. According to the agency, by 2020, air pollution protections under the Clean Air Act will prevent more than 230,000 premature deaths, 200,000 heart attacks, 17 million lost work days, and 2.4 million asthma attacks. These are health benefits we see every day, and the benefits will grow over time as the programs take their full effect.

This is without a doubt a matter of saving lives and livelihoods. None of our leaders would advocate for keeping addicts hooked on dangerous drugs like cocaine. It’s time that our representatives in Congress end their addiction to serving big polluters, and stop the deadly pollution they spew into our air.