Changes in the Clean Air Act exacerbate breathing troubles, especially for people already suffering from respiratory illness.

WelsbacherIn late August, in the heat of the summer’s dog days, the Bush administration revised the 1970 Clean Air Act to allow thousands of industrial plants to upgrade equipment without installing the pollution controls that the act mandates. The Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator claims the act has amendments that control emissions. Critics disagree. “I have no idea what in the world they mean,” Winston H. Hickox, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, told the New York Times.1 Under the new rule, violations being prosecuted at nine Tennessee Valley Authority power plants and at the recently convicted Ohio Edison plant, which increased air pollution by hundreds of thousands of tons, would have been allowed.2

Power plants, cars, trucks, and equipment are major sources of smog, whose primary component—ground-level ozone made lethal when cooked in hot sunlight—can cause chest pain, cough, reduced lung function, and irreversible lung damage. Studies have offered ample evidence that air pollution causes more asthma attacks, increased visits to emergency departments, and higher mortality rates, prematurely killing tens of thousands of Americans annually. New research links pollution to lung cancer, strokes, and heart attacks.3

“It’s hard to escape the fact that this is having a serious impact on public health,” said Donald Kettl, chair of a new source review panel for the National Academy of Public Administration, an independent, nonprofit organization chartered by Congress.4 Michael Trimble, who is heading up an air quality study in Rhinebeck, NY, said the revision represented a missed opportunity to prevent respiratory disease at a time of escalating medical costs.5

The costs of irresponsible pollution management already have surpassed levels that could be deemed acceptable by any humane standard. According to the president of an air quality agency in France, thousands of people who died in that country’s recent heat wave might have been killed by its air pollution.6

It is unlikely that this planet will alter its habit of spinning into summer once a year or so—not, at least, in the foreseeable future. Perhaps the people living on it, therefore, should seek cooler heads in their leadership, particularly when the stakes are so high. Who better to lead a charge demanding improvements in the air we breathe than the respiratory therapy community?

—Anne Welsbacher
[email protected]

References
1. Seelye K. Administration adopts rule on antipollution exemption. New York Times. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com. Accessed August 28, 2003.
2. Natural Resources Defense Council. Bush administration to gut Clean Air Act. Available at: http://www.nrdc.org. Accessed August 27, 2003.
3. American Lung Association, statement from John L. Kirkwood. Available at: http:// www.lungusa.org. Accessed September 2, 2003.
4. Shogren E. Clean Air Act rules for industry eased. Los Angeles Times. August 28, 2003; A1.
5. Shapley D. Some fear boost in air pollution. Poughkeepsie Journal. Available at: http://www.pough keepsiejournal.com. Accessed September 2, 2003.
6. Gehmlich K. Pollution cited as factor in French heat deaths. Reuters. Available at: http://story.news/yahoo. com. Accessed September 2, 2003.