The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 22, 2013

Public health benefits from cleaner gas

Daily Item

---- — If you are among the countless Americans who long for a shorter commute, less time spent in traffic shuffling kids to and from soccer practice or piano lessons, you are not alone. What you may not realize though is that the volume of time you spend behind the wheel could actually be harming not only your health, but also your children's.

Here's why: breathing tailpipe pollution can cause serious respiratory distress. Even if you drive with your windows up, you are still breathing dirty highway pollution that can trigger severe asthma attacks, jeopardize children's lung development, cause heart attacks and even premature death. Even if your children aren't in the car, their soccer fields, playgrounds and schools are often close enough to these highways to have the same effect on their developing lungs.

While today's cars are much cleaner than they used to be, as anyone who has driven on heavily congested Interstate 80 or US 11 knows, vehicle emissions are particularly concentrated on busy roadways such as these and only magnify the harmful impacts of breathing tailpipe pollution.

The American Lung Association's new report: A Penny for Prevention: The Case for Cleaner Gasoline and Vehicles effectively demonstrates how the public health benefits from setting cleaner gasoline standards and stronger emissions standards to reduce tailpipe pollutions produced by cars, light trucks and SUVs would be both significant and immediate.

Most notably, the pollution reduction equivalent would be equal to removing 33 million cars from our nation's congested roadways. That's nearly twice the number of every car and truck registered in Pennsylvania. Once implemented, these air pollution reductions would save 2,500 lives every year and prevent more than 3.3 million missed school and workdays due to illness.

We now have sufficient and conclusive scientific evidence that confirms constant exposure to tailpipe pollution disproportionately harms the health of those who live, work and attend school near busy roadways most. Up to 45 percent of the nation is going about their daily lives within dangerous proximity of heavy traffic pollution.

Considering Columbia and Montour counties produce 40 percent and 100 percent more emissions (respectively) from mobile sources per capita than the statewide average, delaying the implementation of these necessary gasoline and tailpipe emissions standards is not at all in the interest in our community's health, especially when the technology to make these changes readily exists today and is well supported by the auto industry.

Every day, I see in my practice the debilitating consequences our region's dirty air has on those who are living with chronic respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD. The serious nature of asthma alone is too often overlooked. It cuts short 5,000 lives every year and increases the demand for emergency medical care and hospitalizations when pollution levels rise above healthy levels as they so often do here in northern region of our state.

While the merits of this measure already enjoy broad public support and promise to produce nothing short of an extraordinary safeguard to public health, if EPA cannot continue to demonstrate to the president and Congress the continued urgent public demand for healthier roadways, cleaner gasoline and vehicle standards may be sidelined in favor of other competing priorities now facing Washington during this time of fiscal crisis.

Remaining silent, particularly among those of us who care for people with lung disease, is a grave disservice to our patients who most need our advocacy and expertise now to demand a healthier future on their behalf.

Dr. Allison Freeman,

Director/Allergy & Immunology

Geisinger Health System