Protecting Kids from Air Pollution Should be a Top Priority

Today’s hearing on EPA’s proposals to protect kids from dangerous air pollution exemplified that some people just don't seem to think that saving the lives of the thousands of Americans who die every year and protecting the tens of thousands – including children – who suffer needlessly from air pollution is worthwhile.

Senator Barrasso of Wyoming dropped the callous curmudgeon bomb at the end of the hearing, saying he wished the Environmental Protection Agency would focus "a little less on being fixated with eliminating any potential environmental risk no matter how small" (153:41 on the tape.)

Hmmm...is the EPA focusing on risks too small to merit our attention and power plant owner's investment? Let's take a look at the specific safeguards that Senator Barrasso appears to consider not worth doing...

The EPA is strengthening the safeguards that will protect children from mercury – a brain-poison that kills IQ points and causes learning disabilities – and other toxins (known as the mercury and toxics rule), as well as from the smog-forming and other dangerous pollution from power plants that victimize people living in downwind states (known unfortunately, since it has nothing to do with cars and trucks, as the transport rule.)

As usual, opponents raised a host of objections (which I will address in a follow-up post) that distract from the core issue that we need to protect our kids and the public from dangerous air pollution. The EPA estimates that reducing the toxic and smog-forming pollution from power plants will save in a single year 31,000 – 53,000 lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of severe health problems including heart attacks, bronchitis and asthma attacks.

This map from the EPA shows the states where the most lives will be saved due to the transport standard alone (note I added the table breaking out the values for each state.)

Map of lives saved by stronger EPA pollution safeguards

To get an appreciation of how important both standards are to kids, we can take a look at impacts on asthma. The mercury and air toxics standards will prevent 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and 11,000 cases of acute bronchitis in kids, every year. In kids, the transport standard will prevent 14,000 emergency room visits, 21,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 440,000 thousand cases of respiratory symptoms and 240,000 asthma attacks.

That’s a lot of kids whose health and life quality are at stake.

State-specific figures on how many kids would be spared these debilitating health effects aren’t available. But by looking at the number of kids in each state that have asthma and that need to be rushed to emergency rooms gasping for breath, you can get a sense of how many kids in your state will be protected by one or both of these strengthened safeguards.

Here’s a map from a report by the National Association of School Nurses, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and Health Care Without Harm showing how many kids have asthma in each state and how many emergency room visits kids need due to their asthma:

Map of child asthma prevalance and ER visits

But those who for whatever reason aren’t interested in protecting kids from dangerous air pollution, or give priority to other things, this doesn’t seem to matter very much. If it matters to you, please make sure your Congressional representatives know that by taking action here at NRDC’s action center.

About the Authors

Pete Altman

Director, Climate & Clean Air Campaign, Climate & Energy program

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