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EPA Must Strengthen our Smog Standards or Risk the Health of Millions of Latinos

Adrianna Quintero

Posted May 26, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Health and the Environment

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By 2050, one in four Americans will be Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In the last decade, the total Latino population in the U.S. grew at a rate of 43%, more than four times the rate of population growth for the nation overall. The demographics of our country are changing, and our leaders in Washington must take note. We’re watching and ready to act.

Unfortunately, while our numbers change, some things remain very much the same. This is especially true when it comes to air quality. Latinos continue to live in areas with the highest concentrations of air pollution, and intensely suffer the impacts of this pollution. So when rumors started spreading that big polluting industries might force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to delay or forego stronger limits on ozone, a precursor to smog, we had to take note.

Ozone is a gas that occurs naturally in the stratosphere, where it protects us from the sun’s UV rays. But ozone also exists in the air we breathe here at ground level, where it’s the primary component of smog. On the ground, ozone is created when pollutants (namely emissions from cars and factories) react in the presence of sunlight. Any of us who have traveled to Los Angeles are familiar with the thick grey layer.

Boy with asthma inaler_iStock.JPGBut what you might not know is that close to 50% of all Hispanic-Americans live in counties that frequently violate ground-level ozone standards (smog standards), according to the CDC. That means millions of Latinos – our children, grandparents, brothers and sisters – are at risk of asthma, bronchitis and even death due to this dangerous air pollutant. Since so many Latinos work outside in construction and agricultural trades, Latinos are often at even greater risk of the damaging health impacts of smog. And we’re not alone. The CDC also estimates that Asian-Americans face a similar if not greater threat from smog.

Smog pollution at high levels can cause diminished lung function and inflamed airways, aggravating asthma or other lung diseases. In fact, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the risk of dying from respiratory disease is more than three times higher in areas with the most concentrated ozone than in those with the lowest ozone concentrations.

As Latinos, we know what’s at stake when it comes to good (or too often, bad) air quality. With unemployment for Latinos still hovering near 12 percent, paying for unforeseen medical bills can be devastating. Taking days off from work to care for yourself or ill family members translates to days of lost pay and often lost jobs. For many employed in construction and agricultural trades, days off simply is not an option. To make matters worse, Latinos are hit especially hard by unexpected healthcare costs from illnesses like asthma since approximately two of every five Hispanics were classified as uninsured in both 2004 and 2008. And for our children, more smog means missed school days, setting our kids back in school and lowering their quality of life.

EPA currently limits the concentration of smog in the air to 75 parts per billion. The agency’s science advisers have unanimously recommended strengthening that standard to a range between 60 to 70 parts per billion. If we truly want to protect our health, experts believe the standard should be at the lower end of that range.

This summer, EPA is scheduled to issue standards that will strengthen protections against smog. The question is whether the Obama Administration will adopt a sufficiently strong standard to genuinely protect the most vulnerable among us—infants, children and the elderly—or bend to the will of Big Polluters who care more about profits than public health.

A truly protective standard would prevent as many as 12,000 premature deaths, 58,000 asthma attacks, and 21,000 hospital and emergency room visits per year. It would help us avoid 5,300 heart attacks and more than 2 million missed school days and 420,000 lost work days. Implementing a weaker standard for smog, just like polluting industries want, would mean more lives lost and more asthma attacks – suffering that Latinos would disproportionately bear.

This is why we are joining together to demand that EPA be permitted to do its job to protect our health, not polluter profits.

Strong standards under the Clean Air Act have improved our air quality for decades, and will lead to even cleaner air in the future for people all across the country. This is an opportunity for us to protect millions from harmful respiratory diseases, regardless of race.

This blog was co-authored with Valerie Jaffee.

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Comments

Jim Bullis, Miastrada CompanyMay 27 2011 01:07 AM

Hold the presses!!!!

The EPA is needed to control emissions of vehicles and power plants, yet they showed today that they lack fundamental competence in the basic underlying physics that governs the situation.

With the announcement by DPA and DOE,
it is now official, the Second Law of Thermodynamics has been repealed in the USA. It appears that Dr. David MacKay is trying to get this in place in the UK also.

Look at the fueleconomy.gov site and go to the electric vehicle tab. You will eventually discover that a gallon of gasoline represents 33.7 kWhr of electric energy.

A gallon of gasoline has never produced more than about 11 kWhr of electric energy. Not in the USA or the UK at least, due to that nasty old Lord Kelvin and his stupid law.

Under Kelvin's crusty opinion, the only equivalence is the amount of heat that can be produced by these two forms of energy.
Seriously, MPGe as thus defined by our EPA is an outrageous lie. And it will trick people into buying electric vehicles that have no special merit in limiting CO2. The trick will be ok as long as coal remains cheap and we think it is a good thing to shift from oil to coal.

Unfortunately, this decree makes it appear unnecessary to do anything serious about making vehicles actually efficient, since so much can apparently be accomplished with simple electrification, as indicated by the MPGe formula they have decreed.

Laura SerranoMay 27 2011 09:00 PM

The EPA !What EPA!! Can you please just show me something that they have done to protect our Environment when it comes to the Almighty $ Pollution and Contamination no longer discriminates when it sneaks into your home! I can show you. Just come to Bay shore Long Island,NY .We have Raw Sewage Running in our streets and entering our homes.The Differences is the others did get paid to have there homes clean. For me with that Latino last name they forgot me.

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