Doctors, nurses, faith and tribal leaders, social justice advocates and affected citizens from all 50 states are convening in Washington, D.C. this week to meet with Obama administration officials and their elected officials on Capitol Hill to send a simple, powerful message: All Americans have a right to breathe clean, healthy air. This unprecedented gathering of more than 150 individuals representing dozens of faith, health, environmental, and community groups will be meeting with Representatives, Senators and other officials on a wide range of health standards being considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Communities across the country are routinely exposed to harmful levels of toxic air pollution from industrial sources such as power plants, cement plants, and incinerators. This pollution is robbing people in these communities of their lives, their health, and their ability to raise their children in healthy homes, back yards, schools, playgrounds and parks. May is recognized as “National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month,” and the impact of dirty air on those suffering from asthma is severe and pervasive. By simply cleaning up power plants—our nation’s dirtiest polluters—the EPA estimates that 120,000 asthma attacks will be avoided each year.
Calling themselves 50 States United for Healthy Air, the group is comprised of representatives from American Nurses Association, Earthjustice, Hip Hop Caucus, Interfaith Power & Light, National Council of Churches and Physicians for Social Responsibility. They are focused on crucial health protections that are currently under attack by well-financed industry groups and their lobbyists and allies on Capitol Hill. The national health-protective standards, overseen by the EPA, include:
- A proposal in March that set the first ever federal regulations on mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants;
- Strong, health-based protections for cement plant pollution, finalized in August 2010, saving an estimated 2,500 lives every year;
- A proposal to regulate harmful coal ash dumps and landfills;
- A rule finalized in February that limits toxic air pollution from thousands of boilers and incinerators located in communities across the country;
- A January 2010 standard that is anticipated to be final by July that would limit ozone pollution—commonly referred to as smog—in cities and towns across the country.
But several members in the House are discussing legislation that would delay or eliminate these protections. For example, Rep. Carter (R-TX) has proposed legislation (H.J. Res. 42) that would eliminate the standard cleaning up cement plant pollution, and Rep. McKinley (R-WV) are pushing for a vote on legislation (H.R. 1391) that will prohibit the EPA from requiring toxic coal ash in a manner that will protect public health. There are also several members of Congress queuing up to swipe at the full set of national health-protective standards recently proposed or finalized.
Despite the overwhelming benefits of these health protections—tens of thousands of lives saved every year, major reductions in asthma, heart disease, respiratory ailments, cancer and other illnesses, and billions of dollars in savings for the American public—industrial polluters are influencing Congress to delay or even block these health protections from taking effect.
Toxic air pollution poisons our bodies and claims tens of thousands of lives each year. Mercury, arsenic, lead, dioxins, smog, fine particles and dozens of other pollutants are pumped out daily from power plants, cement kilns, boilers, incinerators and other industrial facilities. These pollutants can cause cancer, heart and lung disease, asthma and developmental disorders.
Lives are at stake, and the federal government has an important role to play in protecting the lives of those most at risk: the young, elderly and communities where air quality levels routinely fall below acceptable health protective standards. The EPA estimates that more than 300,000 newborns each year may have increased risk of learning disabilities associated with in utero exposure to methylmercury.
“From its earliest days, the nursing profession has understood the importance of a clean, healthy environment to human health,” remarked ANA President Karen A. Daley, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN. “After all, it was Florence Nightingale who established as the first rule of nursing, ‘Keep the air within as pure as the air without.’ But the purity and safety of our air is at risk. Mounting scientific evidence indicates that the human body is becoming a reservoir for the toxic chemicals found in the air, water, food, household products, and even in products commonly used in the provision of health care. That is why ANA is proud to help convene the 50 States for Healthy Air, to protect our environment, and its impact on human health.”
“The Clean Air Act is our nation’s strongest, most successful tool in cleaning up dangerous and toxic air pollution from industrial sources,” said Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen. “Despite decades of success protecting millions of Americans and saving taxpayer money, some members of Congress are attacking the Clean Air Act in cooperation with the polluters who would finally be forced to clean up their mess. These doctors, nurses, faith leaders and affected citizens are bringing a message to their members of Congress to protect our health and the health of our children by cleaning up this toxic air pollution.”
“It is unconscionable that some elected leaders in Congress and deep-pocketed industry groups are promoting a right to pollute over the God given right to breathe,” said Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus. “Low-income and communities of color suffer disproportionately from sickness and death due to toxic air pollution. The Hip Hop Caucus and our allies from all 50 states are standing together to protect the vulnerable from absolute reckless greed.”
“These attempts by certain members of the House and Senate pose a reckless threat to the air we breathe. We are seeing skewed values that favor polluters over children’s health,” said the Rev. Canon Sally G. Bingham, president of Interfaith Power & Light. “People of faith strongly urge Congress to remember the moral and ethical dimensions of this issue as they review and vote on any new legislation.”
“Air pollution from coal-fired power plants, vehicles and industrial sources contribute to heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory diseases. In other words, air pollution is killing Americans,” said Peter Wilk, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “It’s also shortening their lives, costing them days lost from school and work, sending them to the hospital, and hitting them hard in the pocketbook. As health professionals, we at PSR are gravely concerned. We know we can do better to clean up the air. Setting health-protective rules for limiting toxic air pollutants, and carrying them out consistently, will save lives and save money.”