Many of the benefits from the Clean Air Act of 1963 and again 1970 & 1990, unsurprisingly, are related to reductions in air pollution. Emissions across the nation decreased by 69% for particles, ozone, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide.
Between 1980 and 2014, air pollution concentrations improved for:
- lead by 98%
- carbon monoxide by 85%
- sulfur dioxide by 80%
- nitrogen dioxide by 60%, and ozone by 33%
- fine and coarse particle concentrations improved by 30%.
Human health has benefited from these reductions — the additional impacts are fairly mind-boggling:
- The EPA reviewed the impact of the Clean Air Act from 1970 to 1990 and found that reduced pollution levels prevented over 200,000 early deaths — and that was just for the year 1990.
- Decreasing levels of fine particle pollution from 1980 to 2000 in American cities increased life expectancies for newborns by about 7 months. That is to say, for babies born in the period after fine particle pollution had declined, their lifespans may have been increased by 7 months.
- The Clean Air Act required new emissions standards for vehicles; consequently, the national motor fleet began to produce less air pollution. As a result, carbon monoxide levels in 41 areas that had been unhealthy declined to healthy levels.
- New passenger vehicles are approximately 99% cleaner in terms of emissions than they were in 1970.
- New marine vessels that are non-commercials generate about 90% less emissions than the same or similar vessels constructed in 1970.
Now, you might say that eliminating and reducing air pollutants don’t matter that much, but they do both for human health and the environment.
It is pretty astounding that Republicans in Congress and running for president of the United States want to do away with the US EPA.
About 25 million Americans have asthma, a medical condition that kills an estimated 3,000 each year. 10 million lost schools days and 14 million lost work days each year are linked with asthma. There are also almost two million emergency room visits each year because of asthma. As much as 30% of childhood asthma has been linked to environmental exposure.
The cost of asthma in the US measured in dollars has been estimated to be $50 billion or more per year. Research conducted in Los Angeles showed that 8% of childhood asthma cases were due to living near a major roadway.
It isn’t only asthma that is related to air pollution exposure — heart disease has also been shown by research to be linked to it.
“Medical researchers are particularly concerned about pollution particles smaller than 2.5 microns, which are usually related to fuel combustion. Because they are so tiny, they aren’t easily screened and more readily enter the human body. They then begin to irritate the lungs and blood vessels around the heart. Data suggest that over time pollutants aggravate or increase the process of disease in the arteries.”
Research conducted at NYU Medical Center found that exposure to fine particle air pollution increases the risk of death.
The World Health Organization has classified outdoor air pollution as a carcinogen — a type of chemical that causes cancer.
“The air we breathe is filled with cancer-causing substances. Outdoor air pollution is not only a major environmental risk to health in general, it is the most important environmental cancer killer due to the large number of people exposed,” explained Kurt Straif, PhD.
The link to lung cancer might not be too surprising for some — others may be unaware or wanting to deny such a connection. However, it has been reported in Scientific American that there is an association: “Nevertheless, air pollution’s cancer toll adds up. Researchers blamed it for 223,000 lung-cancer deaths in 2010, nearly 15% of all such deaths. The IARC also noted evidence linking air pollution to bladder cancer.”
When you first started reading this article, you may not have been thinking about the impacts of air pollution on human health, because the US Clean Air Act might sound like a policy or law that was enacted over environmental concerns. You would be correct, but human health is at issue as well.
Asthma, heart disease, and cancer: who would argue against measures that reduce these diseases in the American population?
Some of the biggest air pollution generators are utilities that burn coal to produce electricity. The Clean Air Act was amended in 1990, but coal-based power plants were not still not covered, which means they were allowed to continue dumping toxins into American air.
In 2011, standards were finally created to reduce this toxic output, but it was the successes of the 1970 Clean Air Act that paved the way.
Would you believe that thousands of deaths every in the US are linked to fine particle pollution from coal-based power, “This latest report finds that over 7,500 deaths each year are attributable to fine particle pollution from U.S. power plants. This represents a dramatic reduction in power plant health impacts from the previous studies. This reduction reflects improvements due to a variety of federal and state regulatory and enforcement initiatives that CATF has supported, including the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule (MATS) and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) and the active enforcement of existing regulations such as New Source Review (NSR).”
In 2004, American deaths associated with power plants was about 24,000 – by 2010 that figure had dropped to 13,000. Again, it was due to tighter regulations on pollutants and toxic emissions. In a sense, one might say that greatest impact of all has been saving human lives – most likely tens of thousands if not more.
Of course, the lives of wild and domestic animals were surely saved too and their health improved, but it is much harder to try to quantify those impacts. Air pollution is sort of a strange beast, because we can see some of it, but most of the particle pollution – particularly the fine kind can not be seen, so we have to trust scientists and researchers to tell us what is happening. That isn’t a problem for many of us, but some people — like the climate change deniers — don’t believe that humans can cause so much damage to the environment.
Image Credit: Public domain