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Guest Column: Carbon pollution limits can help save lives and improve health

August 20, 2014

By Harold P. Wimmer
National President and CEO, American Lung Association
and Thomas Ferkol, M.D.
President, American Thoracic Society

Few things are more frightening for a parent than racing to the hospital with a child who can’t breathe. Few things are more difficult for a physician than telling a family that a loved one will not recover from an asthma attack. We work with people who know those experiences far too well, and because of those experiences, support reducing carbon pollution.

The American Lung Association and the American Thoracic Society members and volunteers understand the impact of polluted air. We know that, as a nation, we have to do more to protect the ability of people to breathe, and that requires us to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

It isn’t enough for physicians to educate patients about the health risks of air pollution, and for parents to keep their children with asthma indoors on bad air days. We must reduce pollution before it takes a further toll on our children and families.

As a nation, we have cut air pollution by more than 70 percent since 1970, but today more than 147 million Americans (nearly half of the U.S. population) still live where the air is unhealthy to breathe. Warmer temperatures from climate change will make it even harder to reduce air pollution in many places, and increase the likelihood of drought, wildfires and other threats to our health.

Fortunately, we can fight those threats.

Recently, hundreds of people attended public hearings hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Denver, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., to speak out in support of the proposed Clean Power Plan to place first-ever limits on power plant carbon pollution. They spoke up because they recognize that reducing carbon pollution benefits the health of communities across the nation.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan provides states with tools to reduce the carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent, moving us forward in the fight against climate change. But the plan would do more than that. When fully implemented, the carbon reduction plan will also reduce lethal air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury by 25 percent, preventing up to 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks in children each year. The plan would also help prevent heart attacks, hospital admissions and missed days of work or school because of illness.

Public health experts call this prevention. For the rest of us, it’s just simple common sense.

That is why both our organizations support efforts of the EPA to establish national limits on carbon pollution. If we, as a nation, act responsibly now to reduce carbon pollution, we can simultaneously improve our air quality now and prevent many of the adverse health and environmental impacts for future generations.

From the Aug. 20-26, 2014, issue

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