Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a draft pollution standard for soot that will reduce one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution, saving thousands of lives and preventing tens of thousands of heart attacks every single year. Unfortunately, it is sure to come under attack by big polluters, so we will need to stand together to defend it.
Soot, also known as particulate pollution, is the most harmful type of air pollution. Soot pollution is a significant health threat because these very fine particles, which come from burning fossil fuels, can be inhaled and lodge in the lungs, causing serious heart and lung problems.
Numerous scientific studies link soot exposure to a variety of serious health problems, including difficulty breathing, heart attacks, asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, irregular heartbeat, and eve premature death in people with heart or lung disease.
Coal plants are the biggest source of soot, and a recent study (PDF) found that soot pollution from coal plants causes 13,000 premature deaths, 20,000 heart attacks, and $100 billion in health care costs annually. This new standard will save thousands of lives.
To put a face to all these numbers and health risks, I only have to think of six-year-old asthma-suffer Peter Wasserman who lives in Chicago near one of the Fisk and Crawford coal plants, who we featured in ads that we ran in Chicago calling for those plants to be cleaned up or retired.
I’ll never forget her opening words in this opinion piece she wrote for the Chicago Tribune:
I’m Peter’s mom. He’s that 6-year-old on those ads on the “L” trains or on billboards around town. You know, the one with the inhaler, the one he’s been using since he was 3. That makes him luckier than his older brother Anthony, who developed his asthma at 3 months. When Anthony had his first asthma attack, I didn’t know much about it. When he was struggling to breathe you could see his little rib cage. I learned that that was a telltale sign.
Peter’s asthma began with a cough that wouldn’t go away. Now that he’s been diagnosed, we’ve had to learn what his “triggers” are. Unfortunately, he has a really tough time on bad ozone days or when it’s really humid and really hot. While other families are able to go to the zoo or the park, my kids can’t. It’s very hard to explain to a 6-year-old who wants to do nothing but play outside that he can’t because the air quality isn’t good enough.
As a mom, I know that parents are united in calling for clean air for our kids, so we support this move by the EPA. As the hot summer days roll by and our cities and towns face Code Orange and Red air quality alerts that keep our kids and other vulnerable populations indoors, soot is one of the major causes of these dangerous days.
What’s more, soot pollution is also the cause of hazy views in our national parks. Asthma and you can’t even enjoy the iconic views in places like the Grand Canyon or the Great Smoky Mountains? Come on.
This National Ambient Air Quality Standard establishes the standard for what is and isn’t clean air, and the Sierra Club strongly supports this update of the soot standard.
Once finalized, this pollution safeguard will require localities to reduce pollution from vehicles, power plants, and other industrial sources – moves that improve our health and our economy.
But, as usual, big polluters like the coal industry are spending millions to prevent these life-saving clean air safeguards, putting their profits before the public’s health and putting American lives at risk.
Let’s fight back. Industrial particle pollution, or soot, from power plants is dangerous and kills hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. That’s why new life saving standards should be put in place to protect our kids and families. Join us in thanking the EPA for this draft safeguard and working in the weeks ahead to finalize a strong version of the standard.