Gasping for Breath

Congressional Attacks on Clean Air Are Not What the Doctor Ordered
We all know that getting stuck on the freeway can drive anyone to experience a little road rage, but recent research suggests that freeway pollution can actually make mice go mental, which will most certainly give pause to anyone who uses or lives near these car-infested, cement-paved monstrosities. According to the Los Angeles Times, after exposing mice to pollution particles, researchers at the University of Southern California observed that the mice had brain damage, including signs associated with memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.

Though particle pollution (or particulate matter) is extremely tiny—about one-thousandth the width of a human hair—it’s their microscopic size that makes them so deadly. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that some particles, like those from freeway pollution, can get deep into your lungs, and even into your bloodstream.

This latest finding comes in addition to all of the other nasty knowns about air pollution, like its links to asthma, cancer and even premature death. In April, the American Lung Association released its annual State of the Air report, which looks at ozone and particle pollution levels across the U.S. The good news is that air quality has improved in many places. The bad news? Just over one-half of the nation still suffers from pollution levels that are often too dangerous to breathe.

As the report’s authors point out, this information comes at a time when many public officials are looking to gut Clean Air Act protections. Thankfully, GOP leaders haven’t yet been successful in stripping the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases and other pollutants, but during the recent budget debates, they were able to hack off $1.6 billion from the agency’s spending budget, essentially handicapping the agency’s ability to implement crucial health and environmental programs. Tasting blood, it seems that House Republicans are now moving in for the kill by attempting to delay important, life-saving regulations for the nation’s biggest polluters—power plants, industrial boilers and cement kilns. Delaying these health protections would lead to as many as 25,000 premature deaths every year.

Meanwhile, millions of Americans are left with their mouths open in disbelief (some of them literally gasping for breath). More than 75% of Americans want Congress to get out of the EPA’s way. Until they do, there are plenty of ways to declare your right to breathe clean air. In fact, some people already have, like Alexandria Allred, a writer and fitness instructor who lives in Midlothian, Texas (“the cement capital of Texas”) and wants her son, Tommy, to be able to go to school without having an asthma attack. Or Richard Mabion, a community organizer in Kansas who lives in a county with not one, not two, but three active coal-fired power plants within walking distance to low and moderate-income communities. These are just two of the approximately 80 Clean Air Ambassadors who recently went to Washington, D.C. to tell Congress, the EPA and the Obama Administration that they want strong protections against air pollution. Declare your right to breathe today.