Californians to the EPA – We Want Clean Air!

As the summer heat sets in, some may consider the air quality a passing concern, while for others it is an invisible cage on their daily activity: “I check the air quality rating every day now,” said one former college track athlete and lung cancer survivor, now a Sacramento trainer in his early thirties. His was one of many heartfelt testimonies told to officials of the Environmental Protection Agency, collectively calling on the agency to exercise federal regulation over air polluters and protect public health.

A variety of breathers from all over California and some from neighboring states gathered on July 19 in Sacramento to weigh in on the EPA’s public hearing on the new national air quality standard for particulate matter – also known as soot. CEH joined representatives from the American Lung Association, environmental groups state-wide, doctors, health and clean air alliances, interfaith groups, construction and petroleum industries, regulatory boards, concerned citizens and asthmatics of all ages converged to share points of interest and deeply personal stories about air.

The haze that can be seen stretching over the summer horizon is mostly soot. It is a particularly nasty toxic polluter because of its small size – about one thirtieth the width of a human hair – that can delve deeply into the lungs and respiratory system causing severe health impacts, from asthma to heart disease and cancer. Soot pollution is caused by carbon and petroleum based emissions – mainly expelled by coal burning power plants, diesel engines and other industrial refineries.

While soot is absolutely a byproduct of our industrialized lifestyle, the impact of soot on bodies is extremely disparate, depending on where you live and work. Those that live and work amidst soot laden air do not have the resources or access points to mitigate their own exposure. Additionally, those residents are more likely to be low income, communities of color. The Ditching Dirty Diesel Collaborative and other organizational allies around the Bay Area have teamed up with community groups to fight the injustices of toxic air.

But “business interest” continues to evade accountability for public health. Although the new regulations could save up to 35,700 lives per year, according to the American Lung Association. The construction and trucking industries keep fighting this with the same grueling argument that regulations curtail business, thereby hurting employees. But true job security starts with health. California is home to the nation’s top five worst polluted cities for ozone, year round and short term particulate pollution. Strengthening air quality standards could, in effect, save billions of dollars in future health care costs, missed work, school absences, not to mention years of suffering from preventable respiratory illness and premature death. Air quality standards must be strengthened now to protect ourselves today and for generations in the future.

The EPA was prompted to act due to a lawsuit jointly filed by eleven states, including California and New York, the American Lung Association, Earthjustice, along with a coalition of environmental groups. The agency is required by the Clean Air Act to update its national standards for air quality every five years according to the most current research and monitoring data. By 2011, when the law was up for amendment the EPA failed to act, environmental groups pushed legally for oversight and a federal judge mandated the agency take action. Only two public hearings were held on the issue nation-wide in Sacramento and Philadelphia. The EPA is expected to release the new updated standards by December 2012.

This is an ongoing environmental justice issue. No one deserves the risk of breathing dirty air.

Submit a comment directly on this issue, let the EPA know what you think!

For more information about the new standard and CA air quality, or to join in this fight, click here.

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