SOURCE: American Lung Association

April 28, 2005 00:01 ET

American Lung Association State of the Air: 2005 Report Calls on Congress to Stop Siding With Corporate Polluters

Despite Modest Air Quality Improvements, Report Shows Half the Nation Is Still Breathing Dirty Air

NEW YORK, NY -- (MARKET WIRE) -- April 28, 2005 -- New evidence shows that more groups are at risk from air pollution and that the health risks are even more serious than experts previously believed, according to the annual American Lung Association State of the Air: 2005 report released today. The report also warns that continued threats to relax federal rules for corporate polluters will jeopardize public health.

"Dirty air threatens the lives and health of far too many Americans," said John L. Kirkwood, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association. "Unfortunately, some of the largest producers of dirty air are big energy companies, who have worked with their friends in Congress on legislation to change the rules so they don't have to clean up their pollution. Fortunately, the Senate recently blocked that bill, but the vote was very close. We need to ask ourselves: Why was Congress even considering a bill that protects corporate polluters instead of the public?" he said.

More than 152 million Americans live in counties where they are exposed to unhealthful levels of air pollution, according to the State of the Air: 2005 report. The report ranks the cities and counties with the dirtiest air, and provides county-level report cards on the two most pervasive air pollutants: particle pollution and ozone (more commonly called "smog"). According to the report, exhaust fumes from idling diesel trucks and buses, smoke from dirty power plants and factories, and soot released from indoor and outdoor wood burning combine to create particle pollution and are also the key raw ingredients of ozone pollution.

New Evidence Shows Air Pollution Can Cause Premature Death

The State of the Air: 2005 report cites recently published studies showing that as ozone levels increase, the risk of premature death increases as well. Ozone is an extremely reactive gas that irritates the respiratory system and can kill people with severe respiratory problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (with includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis), and asthma. The studies also found that ozone causes shortness of breath and coughing, triggers asthma attacks and increases the need for emergency room visits and hospital admissions. Children, the elderly, and those with asthma or other lung diseases are most at risk from ozone.

In addition, the Lung Association now adds diabetics to the list of groups most at risk from particle pollution, based on increased evidence of their vulnerability to these tiny particles. Particle pollution is a mixture of microscopic solids and aerosols that has been found to take months to years off a person's life. Other at-risk groups include children, seniors, those with asthma and lung diseases and those with cardiovascular diseases. Particle pollution has also been shown to induce heart attacks and strokes, cause lung cancer, trigger asthma attacks and increase the need for medical care and hospital admissions

"Evidence is mounting each year underscoring just how dangerous air pollution really is," explained Norman H. Edelman, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. "The more we learn, the more critical cleaning up the air becomes."

Administration Delays and Proposals Jeopardize Public Health

In the State of the Air: 2005 report, the American Lung Association cites threats to public health that target protections in the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act requires that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states clean up dangerous pollutants and ensures residents have air that is safe to breathe by 2010.

"Big energy companies are pushing Congress to change the law to let them get in an extra 10 years of pollution and to increase pollution at their oldest and dirtiest plants," said Janice Nolen, director of national policy at the American Lung Association. "In March, the Senate blocked a bill that would do just that, but the fight is not over. We must continue to be vigilant about protecting the Clean Air Act from the polluters," she said.

The Lung Association has taken legal action to stop this rollback, and encourages everyone to join them in supporting strong national, state, and local pollution control programs, by participating in community reviews of air pollution and sending e-mails or faxes to urge members of Congress to protect the Clean Air Act. To contact members of Congress to oppose revisions to the Clean Air Act, including loopholes for polluting power plants that would weaken existing laws, log onto www.lungusa.org.

Counties Across the Country Have Dangerously High Particle Pollution and Ozone Levels

The State of the Air: 2005 report shows that about 50.2 million Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of both ozone and particle pollution. Here are some of the cities ranked among the worst in the nation for ozone and/or particle pollution:

--  West: Los Angeles, Calif.; Bakersfield, Calif.; Fresno, Calif.;
    Hanford, Calif.; Visalia, Calif.
--  Northeast: New York, N.Y.; Newark, N.J.; Bridgeport, Conn.
--  Mid-Atlantic: Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Md.; Pittsburgh, Pa.
--  Midwest: Cleveland, Ohio; Columbus, Ohio; Chicago, Ill.; Detroit,
    Mich.; St. Louis, Mo.; Salt Lake City, Utah; Provo, Utah
--  Southeast: Birmingham, Ala.; Louisville, Ky.; Atlanta, Ga.; Charlotte,
    N.C. Knoxville, Tenn.
--  South: Houston, Texas; Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas
--  Northwest: Eugene, Ore.; Springfield, Ore.
    
What People Can Do To Protect Themselves From Air Pollution

"The American Lung Association produced the State of the Air: 2005 report to help all Americans understand the quality of the air in their community. But it can't stop there," said Kirkwood. "Air, and the pollution carried in it, doesn't respect city and county boundaries. Americans have the power to protect themselves and the air we're all breathing. It's time for everyone to pitch in and help."

To find out what you can do to get involved, protect yourself, your family's health, and the Clean Air Act, go to www.lungusa.org.

About the American Lung Association

For 100 years, the American Lung Association has been the lead organization working to prevent lung disease and promote lung health. Lung disease death rates continue to increase while other leading causes of death have declined. The American Lung Association funds vital research on the causes of and treatments for lung disease. With the generous support of the public, the American Lung Association is "Improving life, one breath at a time." For more information about the American Lung Association or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) or log on to www.lungusa.org.

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