This is a guest post from Albert A Rizzo, MD. Dr. Rizzo is the National Volunteer Chair of the American Lung Association.
There is a lot being said in the news lately about how leaders in Washington are working to weaken or even repeal basic clean air protections. This week especially, the debate over regulating emissions from industrial boilers and cement plants has captured headlines across the nation.
Yet, what all this boiler and cement talk really means to everyday people hasn’t been made entirely clear. Bottom line, serious public health protections are on the line. Industrial boilers and cement plants are the second and third largest sources, respectively, of mercury and other toxic emissions and directly contribute to thousands of deaths each year.
Industrial boilers are most often used to produce electricity at chemical and manufacturing plants, paper mills and refineries. These boilers operate by burning oil, coal and other dirty substances, which create a toxic by-product of soot, mercury and other harmful agents that are released into our airways in alarming volumes. Breathing these air toxics can cause serious harm to the circulatory, respiratory, nervous, endocrine and other essential life systems. Pollution from industrial boilers is also a known cause of cancer, developmental disorders and premature death.
In addition to mercury, the kilns used in the cement manufacturing process are also a significant source of soot, smog and cancer-causing emissions. These kilns are a key component in the energy intensive process that heats, grinds and mixes the raw materials that comprise cement. Breathing emissions from cement plants can exacerbate asthma and other chronic lung diseases, increase hospitalization rates, impair children’s lung function and development, trigger heart attacks and even cause death.
The EPA wants to protect public health by calling on manufacturers that use industrial boilers or cement kilns in their operations to install widely available pollution control technologies. Doing so would prevent 1.4 tons of mercury and more than 500,000 tons of other dangerous air toxins generated by industrial boilers alone from entering our airways each year. This achievable cleanup effort would also prevent 41,000 asthma attacks, 78,000 cases of respiratory symptoms and 4,300 hospital and emergency room visits caused each year by breathing air pollution from industrial boilers.
Between 2,500-6,000 premature deaths would also be avoided each year in addition to returning 310,000 missed school and workdays to the economy.
Cleaning up cement kilns would prevent another 17,000 cases of aggravated asthma, 1,000 emergency room visits for respiratory problems and 1,500 heart attacks each year. Between 960 and 2,500 avoidable deaths will be prevented and 130,000 missed work days will be returned to working families annually.
Considering the abundance of health benefits by simply reducing emissions from industrial boilers and cement kilns would deliver, it’s hard to understand why anyone in Washington would even debate such common sense measures. However, some vocal members of Congress don’t see it that way and want to delay required cleanup actions indefinitely.
Delaying cleanup efforts means more lives will be lost, more asthma attacks will send people to the emergency room, more children will suffer from respiratory infections and compromised lung development.
Sometimes it seems our lawmakers in Washington forget that these statistics actually represent real people and often the most vulnerable among us including children, pregnant women, older adults and people living with serious lung diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Consider sending your representatives in Congress a picture of your children or a loved one with lung disease to serve as a visual reminder of why protecting healthy air really does make a difference in the lives of everyday people.
For more information on how to protect your family from pollution, visit the American Lung Association’s website.
Thank you Dr. Rizzo for all the fine work you do to protect clean air for our families!
Dr. Rizzo is chief of the Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine section at Christiana Care Health Systems, and he serves as managing partner and medical director of the Lung Health and Sleep Enhancement Center at Pulmonary Associates. He also served a vital role in establishing the Delaware Asthma Consortium, which now includes more than 60 members form the Delaware community, pharmaceutical companies and businesses to address the management and care of individuals with asthma. He has been an active and much valued Lung Association volunteer for more than 20 years.
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