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Gina Solomon’s Blog

Air Quality and Children's Health: Just the Facts, Please!

Gina Solomon

Posted June 8, 2011

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I get nauseated when people use obfuscation cloaked in science to confuse people about issues that relate directly to their health. This morning when I read the testimony of a consultant to industry who is using a Senate committee hearing to attack EPA's regulations on clean air, I felt that familiar nausea.

Julie Goodman, from Gradient Corporation (a consulting firm to numerous polluting industries), uses her testimony to imply that EPA's air regulations aren't based on good science. She couldn't be more wrong.

Julie Goodman's testimony points to a recent report from the National Research Council (NRC) on formaldehyde, which she implies (by association) somehow undercuts the science of all of EPA's regulations. In reality, the NRC report was focused on just one chemical assessment, and the report confirmed EPA's central conclusion that formaldehyde causes cancer in humans. The NRC panel asked EPA to clarify several aspects of its report, and urged the agency to move forward to finalize the report as soon as possible. My colleague Jennifer Sass blogged about the NRC study here. Yes, this recent report on formaldehyde leveled criticisms at EPA for writing a confusing document, but the criticisms weren't really about EPA's science, and it's ridiculous to say that the NRC report somehow eliminates the need to protect children from this cancer-causing chemical - or from other dangerous air pollutants.

The industry arguments at the Senate hearing on Air Quality and Children's health moved from the formaldehyde issue into the realm of fantasy, by implying that somehow the NRC report undermines EPA's ozone standard. Ozone smog is one of the most thoroughly studied pollutants in the world, and the science is overwhelming. The EPA's independent Scientific Advisory Board, the American Lung Association, the American Thoracic Society, and other medical and public health groups have all called for science-based revisions of the EPA ozone standard due to the huge risk to children's health. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has criticized the EPA for not going far enough, based on the science, to protect children's health from ozone smog.

Ozone essentially scorches the airways and lungs, causing cough and pain in healthy people on bad air days. At lower levels, ozone causes asthma exacerbations, increases rates of emergency room visits and hospitalizations for respiratory symptoms in kids, and increases school absences by 63% for each 0.02 part-per-million (ppm) increase in ozone levels. The current regulatory standard is 0.08 ppm, and it's abundantly clear - based on large studies done right here in the United States, that this ozone level sickens kids.

The polluters see the current economic crisis as an opportunity to roll back regulations that cost them money. They have found a few scientists who are willing to stitch together a patchwork of distorted information into a pseudo-scientific fig-leaf for their agenda. But people shouldn't be fooled. The main issue at stake here is the health of our children. If we let the polluters attack the EPA and roll-back clean air regulations, our kids will get sicker, miss school more, end up in the ER, and worse. The nausea that I feel when I read the Senate hearing testimony this morning is nothing compared to the wheezing of children nationwide who will be breathing more polluted air.

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Juliann AllisonJun 9 2011 05:01 PM

I share your nausea and unease. Environmental policy in the United States was created on the basis of science; it's a shame to see how much knowledge - about air quality and health, in this case - has been overshadowed by politics and greed.

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