Monday, December 22, 2008

American Lung Association Faults Environmental Protection Agency for Ignoring Deadly Particle Pollution in Five U.S. Cities in List Released Today

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Lung Association faults the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for leaving five U.S. cities off its list of those required to take immediate action to reduce particle pollution in the air. This deadly omission puts public health in the following metropolitan areas at considerable risk: Houston, Texas; Augusta, Georgia; Columbus, Georgia; Greenville, South Carolina; and Fairmont, West Virginia. In addition, EPA left many individual counties off the list despite the impact of emissions from those counties on pollution in metropolitan areas.

Particle pollution is typically a mixture of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols. It can trigger heart attacks and strokes, and cause irregular heartbeats, lung cancer and premature births. Breathing particle pollution year-round can shorten life by one to three years. The five cities omitted from the EPA's list all showed unhealthy year-round levels of fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5. In its list released today, the EPA only identified counties and metropolitan areas that experience unhealthy spikes in particulate matter pollution over the course of a 24-hour period.

The Clean Air Act requires that the EPA officially notify all localities with documented unhealthy levels of particulate air pollution so that leaders can begin to make necessary changes.

"The Clean Air Act plainly requires the EPA to identify all the places where air pollution poses a threat to public health," said Paul G. Billings, Vice President, National Policy and Advocacy of the American Lung Association. "This process is essential to reducing the burden of air pollution in these communities, because it triggers critical protective measures to reduce air pollution and protect public health."

According to EPA records, year-round particulate matter levels in Houston and Columbus, Georgia, have worsened and people in these communities are at risk. Particle pollution harms people in many ways, even when the particle levels are very low. Particle pollution worsens serious respiratory disorders, including asthma and causes wheezing and coughing. People most at risk include children and teens, seniors, people with asthma and other lung diseases, people with cardiovascular diseases and diabetics.

In 2006, the EPA set new limits, called standards, for unhealthy levels of PM2.5, triggering a two-year process to identify which counties fail to meet the standards. In today's official action, the EPA formally determines, or "designates" counties that fail to meet, or "attain," the standards. Those counties then fall into a classification of "nonattainment" that triggers specific measures to be put in place to reduce emissions. Other counties do not have to comply with these requirements.

EPA misses many individual counties, limiting clean-up in larger cities

The Lung Association also found that EPA's official "nonattainment" list omitted many counties that are part of larger metropolitan areas with recognized unhealthy levels of particle pollution. Large sources of particle pollution, such as highways, railroads and industries are usually spread throughout a metropolitan area. To tackle the complex clean up of these widespread sources, the planning area needs to include all the counties where sources exist. Omitting these counties makes it harder for the rest of the metropolitan area to meet the standard. The American Lung Association previously advised EPA that all the counties should be included in any metropolitan area that monitored unhealthy levels.

"It's naive to act as if air pollution is trapped by the invisible lines that define our counties' borders," said Billings. "The EPA has a responsibility to do more to protect public health when it comes to air pollution."

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