The 2011 Sick of Soot report, which the American Lung Association coauthored, concluded that adopting an annual standard of 11 μg/m3 and a daily standard of 25 μg/m3 would provide the most health benefits. Most notably, these more protective standards would prevent as many as 35,700 deaths from occurring annually as a direct result of breathing in soot –almost enough lives saved to fill every seat in historic Fenway Park.
Massachusetts has the unfortunate bragging rights of having asthma rates that are among the highest in the nation, with approximately one in 10 adults and children living with the disease. Unfortunately, children suffer most, as their lungs do not fully develop until they reach early adulthood. Early exposure to particle pollution during this critical development period can hinder lungs from maturing properly and cause respiratory problems that children will carry with them for a lifetime. Asthma is a common chronic condition in children and is a leading cause of emergency room visits and missed school days in Massachusetts. Although the human suffering associated with asthma is great, so is the cost to our wallets. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, total charges for asthma hospitalizations in Massachusetts in 2010 were $113 million - a 126 percent increase since 2000. Taxpayers are expected to pay 66 percent of those costs.
It is a shame that we live in a state that prides itself on being a leader in the health, environmental, and renewable energy fields, yet our residents are suffering at the mercy of a national pollution standard that is outdated and does not provide adequate public health protection. For the sake of children like my friend’s son and many others who suffer with asthma or compromised health, President Obama must ensure that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopts the most protective soot standard possible. Anything less places the health of current and future generations at risk.
Barbara Kwetz Allan is the former director of air quality at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and a board member of the American Lung Association in Massachusetts.