|HOW CLEAN IS CLEAN ENOUGH?|
September 12, 1997
Questions asked in this forum:
When will Govt. agencies be inspected for environmental compliance? Will diesel fuel ever be banned? Should the U.S. instigate a fee-based system to control pollution? Will stricter standards in the U.S. increase pollution from Mexico? What lessons can environmentalists learn from the fight against the cigarette industry? Who controls pollution better: the states or the federal government? Where does a breath of fresh air fit into a cost-benefit analysis? Additional comments...
June 25, 1997:
Margaret Warner leads a discussion of the tougher clean air standards.
June 25, 1997:
Read our Online Forum: U.S.Representatives Julia Carson (D-IN) and Jim Gibbons (R-NV) debated the effectiveness of the EPA.
November 27, 1996:
The Environmental Protection Agency proposes to reduce smog levels by a third.
December 21, 1995:
Spencer Michels reports on the changing role of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Browse the Online NewsHour's coverage of the environment.
Environmental Protection Agency
Citizens for a Sound Economy advocates market-based solutions to public policy problems.
Air Quality Resources on the Internet.
Clean Air Act Information Network
A question from Keith Rasmussen of Westmont, IL:
When I was in elementary school, class sizes averaged around 30 children, and I remember only one person (a fair skinned blond headed girl) who had asthma. In my daughter's Kindergarten class of 17 children, four or five had asthma to one degree or another (including my daughter). She's now in third grade, and every year at least three children in her class have had asthma.
With respect to pollutants that might cause or aggravate asthma, is the air cleaner or dirtier now than when I attended elementary school in the early 1960's? Is it possible asthma is just better diagnosed now? Has their been some evolution in the mix of pollutants such that the current mix is more prone to causing or aggravating asthma?
Carol Browner of the Environmental Protection Agency responds:
Asthma is the most common chronic illness in children. Nearly five million kids suffer from it, along with nearly 10 million adults. Asthma is now the leading cause of hospital admissions for children. And, fatal asthma attacks in children and young adults more than doubled between 1980 and 1993. In 1993 alone, asthma killed 342 Americans under age 25 and sent nearly 200,000 for a stay in the hospital.
There have been substantial improvements in air quality in cities throughout the United States since the early 1960's, with significant reductions in concentrations of all of the major air pollutants.
Some air pollutants, such as ozone and particulate matter, have been reported to aggravate asthma, and numerous health studies have shown an association between the levels of these pollutants in the air and increases in emergency room visits and hospital admissions for asthma and other respiratory diseases. Exposure to these pollutants aggravates the symptoms associated with asthma and triggers asthma attacks, which can result in more asthma attacks and more severe attacks. No less than the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that pediatricians make parents aware of the daily variations in ozone and -- when ozone levels are high -- keep their kids indoors.
However, it is not believed that air pollution by itself causes asthma. Other factors such as increased numbers of susceptible populations, including children, improved diagnosis, and possibly greater exposures to the likely causes of asthma better explain the increase in the incidence of asthma.
Paul Beckner of "Citizens for a Sound Economy" responds:
The fact is there is no link between asthma and pollution. Both particle and ozone pollution have steadily declined, while the incidence of asthma has gone up. Particulate pollution has decreased by 78 percent according to the EPA, while ozone exceedance trends have been going down for the past decade.
Recent evidence also suggests that it is not outdoor pollution that causes increased asthma prevalence, but indoor pollution. A recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine pinpointed cockroach antigen and the lack of well ventilated housing in the inner-city, which has resulted in part from the energy conservation regulations of the late 1970s, as the cause of increased asthma. Even the EPA itself confirms the problems with indoor air pollution in its guide to indoor air quality: "[A] growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities. Other research indicates that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. Thus, for many people, the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors." In addition, places with the cleanest air in the world, such as New Zealand and the Scottish Highlands, have also suffered the marked increase in asthma cases. This points to some other cause such as excessive immunization, increased weatherization of houses, or, possibly just better diagnosis resulting from better access to health care as the cause of increased asthma prevalence.