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There’s Something Bad in the Air

A coalition of public health and environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, asking a federal court to require the agency to protect LA and San Joaquin Valley communities from hazardous levels of air pollution.

Child suffering from asthma.

A child receives treatment for asthma. Fine particulate matter can easily be inhaled deep into the lungs, even absorbed into the bloodstream, where they can cause a host of negative health impacts, including heart and lung disease, and asthma.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

There’s something in the air, and Kevin Hamilton knows it all too well. A respiratory therapist in the San Joaquin Valley, Hamilton has watched his patients and his family struggle with the effects of fine particle and ozone pollution for decades.

“They are convinced the air quality is affecting their health and so am I,” he said. “Their asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases are acting up more.”

Hamilton, 60, works at Clinica Sierra Vista. He is father to four children, a grandfather and is doing advocacy work on behalf of Medical Advocates, an Earthjustice client. Watching the area’s air pollution levels rise reminds him just how cautious his patients and those living in the region need to be.

“Summer literally just has not ended in the San Joaquin Valley,” he said. “We are seeing an extreme number of high ozone days and high particulate matter—we’re getting this double shot.”

The Los Angeles-South Coast and San Joaquin Valley air basins have the highest levels of fine particle pollution in the country, one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution. Fine particle matter pollution consists of tiny, dirty motes—less than 1/30 the width of a human hair—that come from sources like diesel exhaust, agricultural activities, and burning wood and fossil fuels. These particles can easily be inhaled deep into the lungs, even absorbed into the bloodstream, where they can cause a host of negative health impacts, including heart and lung disease, and asthma.

A coalition of public health and environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today, asking a federal court to require the agency to protect LA and San Joaquin Valley communities from hazardous levels of air pollution.

For Hamilton, this case is about accountability of a government agency and the right of his community members, patients and family to breathe cleaner air.

“I have a number of patients who have to stay in the house because it is not safe for them to breathe outside,” Hamilton said. His patients also include children who miss school due to respiratory illnesses, and whose parents miss work to take care of them.

Many of these impacts of fine particle pollution are being suffered intensely by our most vulnerable individuals—people with heart or lung disease, children, and the elderly. The wildlife and ecosystems in those areas are also adversely affected by the ongoing particle matter violations.

In 1997, EPA set health-based standards for the allowable amount of fine particle pollution in the air, and in 2005, EPA found that the Los Angeles and San Joaquin Valley air basins were in nonattainment with these standards. Under the Clean Air Act, these air basins had six years—or until 2011—to clean up their air to meet EPA’s standards. When they missed the 2011 deadline, EPA was required by the Clean Air Act to designate these areas as “serious” failure areas, triggering requirements for increasingly protective measures to clean up the air. However, the agency has failed to do its job and protect the people of this region. 

The lawsuit, filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, and WildEarth Guardians, asks the court to order the EPA to stop dragging its feet, and to designate these areas as being in serious non-attainment with EPA’s standards for fine particle pollution.

Read the court filing.

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