08 July 2020
“This should be the last summer we have to stress about our lives being on the line over peaker plants."
Editor's note: This story is part of "Breathless," EHN's in-depth look at asthma in Pittsburgh and what can be done to help children breathe easier.
PITTSBURGH—It's something of an open secret that people who live in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, face a substantially higher risk of developing asthma than the national average, and that we're in the top 2 percent of the U.S. for cancers associated with air pollution.
But there's another, lesser-known risk that's also been linked with the types of air pollution that are a problem in the region: Autoimmune disease.
Autoimmune disease refers to a group of more than 100 inflammatory diseases involving the immune system attacking healthy cells in the body, such as Crohn's and celiac disease, lupus, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes. Autoimmune diseases have been steadily on the rise in the U.S. and globally for the last 30 years.
An estimated 23.5 million Americans have some form of autoimmune disease, according to federal estimates. However, some health organizations, such as the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association, say that number could be more than double because federal data doesn't include all possible autoimmune diseases.
The diseases are a leading cause of morbidity among middle-aged women, and the second-leading cause of chronic illness in the nation.
"Normally our immune systems know not to attack us," Dr. Susan Manzi, director of the Lupus Center of Excellence at the Allegheny Health Network's Autoimmunity Institute, explains. "They attack things that are foreign or don't belong, like bacteria or viruses or foreign small particulates. But sometimes when the system is revving up to get rid of them, in certain people with the right genetic background, that turn-up of the immune system never gets shut off. It becomes overactive, and starts to recognize the cells it's supposed to be protecting as foreign."
Although asthma has many triggers, some research suggests that the disease is also the result of a malfunctioning immune system, which results in inflammation of the airways. A number of researchers have called for further exploration of the links between the two, and suggested that the same environmental causes could trigger the immune system dysfunctions involved in both asthma and autoimmune disorders.
When it opened in February, the Allegheny Health Network's Autoimmunity Institute became the first medical center in the world to put multiple specialists under one roof to treat autoimmune patients collaboratively while conducting multidisciplinary research into autoimmune diseases, since they often impact more than one bodily system simultaneously. The institute has nine specialists on staff, including an allergist who treats asthma.
Smokestacks of US Steel's Clairton Coke Works are visible behind a row of homes in Clairton, PA. (Connor Mulvaney/EHN)
Manzi acknowledges that there's not yet enough research on that topic to officially designate asthma an autoimmune disorder. "But," she adds, "I think a lot of people would say that many autoimmune diseases have environmental triggers, and asthma would not be distinct from that."
While we know asthma rates in Allegheny County are higher than average, there's a lack of data available on the overall prevalence of autoimmune disease, (mostly due to to the sheer number of them) which makes it difficult to compare rates between regions. Manzi doesn't have statistics on which autoimmune diseases are most prevalent in Pittsburgh, but based on her observations, she says the institute most commonly treats patients with inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease, celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, autoimmune thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
We do know that Allegheny County has higher than average mortality rates for at least one autoimmune disorder: From the years 2000 through 2008, the age-adjusted death rate for multiple sclerosis in Allegheny County exceeded the state average by 40 percent, according to state Department of Health mortality data.
"There have been a lot of studies looking at whether areas that have higher concentrations of small particle pollutants have higher risk of autoimmune disease, or at least higher risk of ones that are under poor control," Manzi says. "There's been some data to support that beyond asthma, which we know can be triggered by air pollution, a number of autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, have been linked to these particles in the air."
Scientists have documented numerous links between autoimmune diseases and exposure to various forms of air pollution. In particular, research shows that exposure to particulate matter pollution—which Allegheny ranks 10th worst in the nation for—can worsen existing cases of autoimmune diseases like lupus, neuroinflammatory disease, and type 1 diabetes, and in some cases may even be a trigger for the onset of disease.
As an example, Manzi pointed to a 2009 study that found people who lived near high-traffic roadways face greater risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Traffic-related pollution worsens ozone pollution levels. In addition to particulate matter pollution, ozone was one of the categories that Allegheny County received an "F" grade for in the American Lung Association's 2018 State of the Air report.
Numerous studies have also shown that elevated levels of particulate matter pollution lead to spikes in ER visits for asthma and other acute heart and respiratory illnesses, as well an increase in deaths related to those diseases. A recent study in Allegheny County found that in the year after one of Pittsburgh's biggest polluters shut down, ER visits for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) dropped by 38 percent.
Exposure to air pollution has also been shown to worsen disease activity in people who already have an autoimmune disease. A 2011 Canadian study linked high levels of particulate matter pollution with lupus flare-ups. The researchers monitored 237 patients over seven years, while simultaneously measuring the air quality in their surrounding environments. After adjusting for certain climate factors and for race, ethnicity and gender, they found a direct correlation between spikes in particulate matter pollution and spikes in disease activity, both in patients' reported symptoms and in their lab tests.
A similar study out of Brazil in 2016 looked at the impact of air pollution on children with lupus. Those researchers also observed spikes in disease activity that coincided with spikes in particulate matter pollution, and noted a significant increase in inflammation of the children's airways when pollution levels were high.
"Our findings have shown that air pollution doesn't just increase the incidence and prevalence of chronic lung disease and acute respiratory infections, lung cancer, heart disease and strokes, it is also an important contributory factor in childhood rheumatic diseases, such as lupus," Dr. Maria Fernanda Goulart, a co-author of the study from the University of São Paulo, said in a press release at the time.
A more recent Canadian study, conducted in 2014, concluded that particulate matter pollution could both trigger and accelerate the development of gastrointestinal autoimmune diseases like Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Dr. Sally Wenzel, director of the Asthma Institute at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, says Pittsburgh would be an ideal place for further study on the links between air pollution, asthma, and autoimmune disease.
"Autoimmune disorders are inflammatory diseases just like asthma," Wenzel tells EHN. "And yet the data on how environment and location relate to autoimmune disease is much more lacking than it is for asthma.
"There's a lot of evidence now that what you breathe may impact your lungs in many ways, and could actually start an autoimmune process. That's a link we haven't fully explored in this region yet."
Editor's note: This story is part of "Breathless," EHN's in-depth look at asthma in Pittsburgh and efforts to help children breathe easier.
PITTSBURGH — Last fall, twelve-year-old Savaughn Williams was thrilled to start playing on the little league football team in Clairton, Pennsylvania, a town 15 miles south of Pittsburgh.
Savaughn's mom, Collette Williams, was initially excited that he wanted to play, too. Football is a big deal in Clairton: The town's high school team, the Bears, has won the state championship for its class four out of the last 10 years. In 2012 they set the state record for most consecutive wins after playing 60 straight games without a loss. "Go Bears" signs are plastered all over town.
But soon after the start of the season, Collette decided to pull her son off the team.
One chilly afternoon Savaughn had a severe asthma attack during practice. Collette managed to get it under control without a trip to the ER, but when he was little, she had to take him to the ER for asthma attacks nearly once a month. Cold air tended to exacerbate his breathing problems, and Colette feared that if he kept playing football, they'd fall back into that pattern.
"Some days he has good days and he can keep up with other kids, but some days I'll have to make him slow down and catch his breath a little bit," Collette tells EHN. "I try to explain to him that if he starts getting winded and doesn't catch it in time, he could have an attack that could cause him to stop breathing, and he could even pass away from it. He kind of gets it, but I don't think he fully gets how serious his asthma is, so I have to keep telling him."
She adds "I'm scared one day when he does finally get it, it might be too late if I'm not around."
Collette and Savaughn Williams
Savaughn isn't the only kid in Pittsburgh who regularly has trouble catching his breath. County data is lacking, so last year pediatricians set out to put a number on the region's asthma problem—and the results were striking: A study of more than 1,200 elementary school students in eight of the county's most polluted school districts found that 22 percent of kids tested have asthma. At the state level, just 10 percent of kids have asthma. The national average is 8 percent.
In Clairton the asthma rate in the study was 18 percent. In some of the 14 schools included in the study, such as Fairless and Shaffer elementary schools (both of which have since been closed by the district), the rates spiked to more than 30 percent of kids examined.
Asthma has many potential causes and triggers. Genetics can play a role, along with things like allergies and tobacco smoke—but one major trigger stands out in this region: Allegheny County has some of the worst air quality in the country. It was one of only 10 counties in the nation to receive all F's on the American Lung Association's 2018 air quality report card, and Pittsburgh was one of just six regions in the country where year-round particulate pollution (tiny, airborne particles of chemicals that cause heart and respiratory problems when inhaled) increased rather than decreased since the last report.
Dr. Deborah Gentile, a member of the Pediatric Alliance and former director of clinical research in the Division of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology at Allegheny Health Network, led the research aimed at assessing the severity of Pittsburgh's childhood asthma epidemic.
Gentile's study adjusted for factors like economics, race and smoking, and still found consistently higher rates of asthma among kids living close to the region's big industrial polluters. Those places included Clairton, which is home to Clairton Coke Works, the nation's largest manufacturer of coke (a key material in steel manufacturing); Colfax, which is downwind of the Cheswick power station; and Braddock, home to the Edgar Thomson Steel Works mill.
Those three industrial sites are among the region's largest emitters of both particulate matter pollution and airborne toxics—such as hydrogen sulfide, phenol, ammonia, and benzene. Much like particulate matter, these toxics can damage the respiratory system and impair children's lung function.
Gentile's research also revealed that asthma was uncontrolled in nearly 60 percent of the children with the disease who she examined. Nationally, the rate of uncontrolled asthma in kids is 38 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State-wide it's 27 percent.
People with "uncontrolled" asthma generally experience wheezing and shortness of breath, or coughing or extra difficulty breathing at night more than twice a week. Using rescue medications like an albuterol inhaler more than twice a week also indicates that a person's asthma is uncontrolled.
Uncontrolled asthma is often the result of a lack of diagnosis and subsequent lack of treatment.
The Allegheny County Health Department collects data on asthma prevalence in kids, but those numbers, which are reported by school nurses, are based on students (or their parents) either stating that they have asthma or keeping a rescue inhaler at school. This method misses students who've never received a diagnosis. In contrast, Gentile's study systematically evaluated students for symptoms, first through a questionnaire-based screening, then through a full work-up and diagnosis by a clinician using standardized breathing tests.
For nearly 13 percent of Gentile's study participants, her testing led to their first asthma diagnosis.
"I've actually met kids that are only breathing at about a third of the capacity they should be," Gentile says, "and that's how they live. It's scary."
For those kids, living with uncontrolled asthma puts them at risk of missing school, obesity, and even permanent damage to their airways and lungs.
"There are still a lot of misconceptions that asthma is an annoyance you have to put up with," Gentile says. "We need to raise awareness that this is not acceptable. Even though we can't cure asthma yet, controlling symptoms in the meantime is critical for long-term health, especially in kids."
US Steel's Clairton Coke Works in Clairton, PA. (Credit: The Breathe Project)
According to the American Lung Association, the average asthma-related hospital stay in Pennsylvania is 3.22 days long, and the average cost is more than $26,000. But the consequences of living with uncontrolled asthma can extend far beyond the cost.
"Asthma death is of course the worst possible outcome for uncontrolled asthma," explains Kevin Stewart, the Mid-Atlantic Director of Environmental Health at the American Lung Association.
Asthma and other chronic lower respiratory disease like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and in Pennsylvania. Nationwide, asthma deaths are decreasing, but the most recent data available suggest they've been on the rise in the state in the last decade: According to Pennsylvania's strategic asthma plan, the state had 126 asthma deaths in 2010, 129 deaths in 2011, and 145 deaths in 2012.
Living with uncontrolled asthma can also have serious, long-term health impacts for kids, whose lungs are still developing through their teen years.
"Some patients experience irreversible airway remodeling as a result of uncontrolled asthma," Gentile says. When airways are remodeled as a result of uncontrolled asthma, the breathing tubes become damaged with scar tissue. When this occurs in kids, they may never achieve full lung function.
"We don't really know why this happens in certain patients but not others," Gentile says. "Some people think certain patients are more genetically prone to permanent damage in their breathing tubes."
As a follow-up to her research, Gentile is now treating elementary school students in the region, including Savaughn Williams, through in-school asthma clinics. Based on their regular clinic visits and testing, Gentile believes Savaughn may have some of that scarring.
"We've been following him for quite some time now because he's one of the more severe case," Gentile says. She explains that normally, patients' breathing test numbers improve following consistent treatment, but that Savaughn's numbers haven't improved as expected, despite his disease being controlled. "When we adjusted for his lung size, it actually shows that he likely has sustained permanent damage to his lungs from his asthma."
Collette was caught off guard by the diagnosis. "I thought he was doing pretty good," she says, "so to get that kind of news is pretty devastating. He's only 12."
There a few other factors that could have contributed to Savaughn's low lung function. He was born 26 weeks premature and spent the first three months of his life in the hospital on a respirator. Soon after coming home, he got sick with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which resulted in several more weeks of hospitalization. Collette was told he only had a 50 percent chance of survival.
When discussing whether Savaughn's premature birth could have played a role in his lung development, Gentile notes that exposure to air pollution during pregnancy has been linked to both premature births and to having children who develop asthma.
Despite his limited lung function, Savaughn is doing much better these days thanks to Gentile's clinic. He plays baseball and says he's usually able to run around at recess as long as he's been using his medication correctly. But he still sometimes misses school due to his disease—and he's not alone in that.
Asthma is the leading cause of absenteeism among elementary school students nationwide. American kids with asthma missed about 13.8 million days of school in 2013, and nearly half of all kids with asthma miss one or more school days each year because of lost sleep due to wheezing or ER visits to treat asthma attacks.
Chronic absenteeism has been shown to negatively impact students' lifelong learning and achievement, as well as contribute to social, emotional and behavioral issues. In 2011-2012, nearly a quarter of Pittsburgh Public School students were chronically absent, meaning they missed at least 18 days of school. Absenteeism is enough of a problem countywide that in 2016, the Department of Human Services expanded a "Focus on Attendance" pilot program aimed at reducing those numbers to all 43 school districts in the county.
When kids stay home from school due to asthma, their parents often have to skip work to take care of them, which results in lost productivity. The entire health care cost of asthma and asthma-related absenteeism from work in Pennsylvania was estimated to be $1.7 billion in 2010. Research has shown that the introduction of asthma intervention programs like Gentile's can significantly reduce absenteeism for both students and parents.
"As far as I can tell, attendance of students in the asthma program has significantly improved primarily due to the fact that students are able to get their inhalers and actually use them if needed," Maria DiCarlo, the school nurse at Clairton Elementary, tells EHN.
Kids with uncontrolled asthma also tend to sit out gym class and sports. The lack of exercise makes kids more susceptible to childhood obesity, and can lead to poor heart health.
"These kids should be active," Gentile says. "There's a misconception that kids with asthma should be on the bench. But today it would be very unusual if we couldn't get a kid to the point where they can do whatever physical activity they want with the right medications."
Studies about the long-term health impacts of asthma remain few and far between compared to other chronic diseases, so there may also be other, unknown consequences of leaving asthma untreated.
"We have lots and lots of studies to look to when it comes to likely outcomes for things like cardiovascular disease," Dr. Sally Wenzel, severe asthma expert and Director of the University of Pittsburgh's Asthma Institute, tells EHN. "We have much less data when it comes to asthma… and it's a highly variable disease."
Wenzel notes that some kids with severe childhood asthma grow out of it permanently, while for others it's a lifelong disease. For some, asthma goes away but then comes comes back, sometimes even more severely, later in life. Ultimately, she says, "We still don't really know why."
Students walk past a mural depicting air quality issues in the halls of Clairton Education Center in Clairton, PA. (Connor Mulvaney/EHN)
In a city that's branded its post-industrial comeback as being all about "eds and meds," why are so many children living with an unchecked, life-threatening disease?
"There may have been some reluctance in Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region to talk much about respiratory disease in a place where there's a legacy of industrial pollution, but those industries have also been an economic driver in the region," says Dr. Wenzel. "There's always this conflict between health and economics here that seems to make it easy not to work too hard on things that impact air quality."
Asthma can also go uncontrolled due to improper use of medications or lack of access to them. Gentile speculates that Pittsburgh's dearth of reliable public transit could be making it difficult for low-income families in areas with high levels of air pollution to get to their doctors and pharmacies regularly.
We could also be seeing higher rates of uncontrolled asthma in Pittsburgh because asthma tends to be not only more prevalent here, but also more severe, which requires more complex treatment to manage.
Wenzel is part of a nationwide clinical research network on asthma created by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, which has been collecting data on asthma since 2009. For the last three years, she's been working on a project related to severe asthma that includes patient data from Madison, Wisconsin; Wake Forest, Arizona; St. Louis; Boston; San Francisco; Cleveland; and Pittsburgh.
"Over three years, Pittsburgh patients have consistently been far and away the sickest among the seven sites," Wenzel says. "Pittsburgh asthma patients have twice the rates of exacerbation, lower lung function, worse symptoms and more use of corticosteroids."
She notes that this may in part be due to referral bias, since she's known as an expert on severe asthma.
"But the difference is so striking," she adds, "that anytime we do a network-wide study we actually have to pull out the Pittsburgh group and control for that data."
She adds that more study is needed, and that she'd like to go back through the data to see whether there are clusters of patients with severe asthma in particular Pittsburgh neighborhoods.
"But," she says, "my impression is that they're fairly distributed throughout the region."
For kids with severe asthma, getting the disease under control can be life-changing. For some parents, that means moving them to places with cleaner air.
"We had a patient enrolled here with a child who had very, very severe asthma, and their family literally lived across the street from the coke works. They were fortunate enough to be able to move out," Gentile says. She reiterates that although asthma has many triggers, removing major, known triggers can only be helpful. Prior to leaving, she says, "this child was basically in the emergency room every week, very sick with his disease."
Collette is considering trying to do the same for Savaughn. "When my daughter graduates high school next year, I'm thinking about moving him out of state," she says.
"The coke plant is a big part of that. I figure if I move out of the area and give him fresher, normal air, maybe he'd be able play like other kids."
Asthma plagues children in Allegheny County—and air pollution is making it worse.
How bad is it? With data lacking, a pediatrician and her colleagues set out to put a number on the problem. Testing more than 1,200 elementary school students, they found that 22 percent of kids in the region have asthma. At the state level, just 10 percent of kids have asthma.
The national average? Eight percent.
And there were consistently higher rates of asthma among kids living close to the region's big industrial polluters.
We're going beyond the numbers. Meet the children who get pulled from school or football practice because they cannot catch their breath, and the concerned parents trying to give their kids a normal, healthy life. Meet the scientists teasing out the true cost of growing up in the shadow of belching industrial plants, and the doctors and nurses on a campaign to reach kids living at the frontlines of pollution.
"Breathless" is EHN's in-depth look at Pittsburgh's asthma epidemic and the fight to stop it.
Recent research revealed that asthma was uncontrolled in nearly 60 percent of Pittsburgh-area children with the disease. Nationally, the rate of uncontrolled asthma in kids is 38 percent. State-wide it's 27 percent. Uncontrolled asthma is often the result of a lack of diagnosis and subsequent lack of treatment.
"I've actually met kids that are only breathing at about a third of the capacity they should be."
Although asthma has many triggers, some research suggests that the disease is also the result of a malfunctioning immune system, which results in inflammation of the airways. A number of researchers have called for further exploration of the links between the two.
"We didn't want to just come in and do our research and then leave these kids hanging. We certainly need to clean up the air. But in the meantime, somebody also has to help these kids."
"I almost feel like these statistics can't be real."
There's some debate over what the findings mean. But one thing is certain—people are breathing easier.
Asthma-spurring pollution swirls around children living in the shadow of the Clairton Coke Works Plant—black and poor children suffer the most.
Three weeks after a Christmas Eve fire at U.S. Steel's Clairton Coke Works plant resulted in levels of sulfur dioxide in the air that exceed Clean Air Act standards for safety, a local physician has observed an increase in asthma exacerbations among elementary school students who live near the plant.
Asthma attacks in children, who live near a busy, major roadway or a playground, is often severe, suggests a new study.
When U.S. EPA boss Scott Pruitt inks his proposal to ax the Clean Power Plan today, the epic brawl over the Obama-era climate rule will be nowhere near over.
Pruitt's signature kicks off a lengthy regulatory process and sets up another court fight for a rule that's already been at the center of some precedent-setting legal decisions. The move also becomes political fodder for friends and foes of the Trump administration's climate policies, and could potentially surface on the campaign trail in contests for Congress and the White House.
It'll all take a while to play out.
"I think this is the first step; I think the resolution of this whole package of issues is probably not going to come before the end of this presidential term," said Richard Revesz, director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law. The outcome will probably be determined by "whoever gets elected in the 2020 election," he added.
Here's a breakdown of the next battles:
Pruitt hasn't even signed his draft repeal yet, but top lawyers in blue states have already promised legal action.
"If and when the Trump Administration finalizes this repeal, I will sue," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) said in a statement yesterday after Pruitt announced his plans to sign the proposal.
Others followed suit. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said, "I will do everything in my power to defend the Clean Power Plan." Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) piled on, saying, "[W]e will be suing to protect the Clean Power Plan from the climate change deniers in this administration who are trying to move us backwards."
Lawsuits over the final repeal plan and a possible replacement rule — which would likely be much narrower than the Obama regulation — are a given. Those could take months or even years to play out, though, since legal challenges likely won't be filed until after EPA's moves are finalized. Challengers of the Clean Power Plan — including Pruitt — attempted to thwart the Obama-era rule before it was final, but those efforts were rebuffed in court.
"We are better lawyers than Scott Pruitt; we know we can't challenge a proposed rule in court," said Sierra Club attorney Joanne Spalding, who's one of many lawyers defending the Clean Power Plan in an ongoing lawsuit.
Less certain than future litigation is what happens to the legal battle over the Obama rule. Judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit have put that rule on ice while the Trump administration decides how to proceed. The Supreme Court intervened last year and blocked the rule after the D.C. Circuit declined to do so.
Some lawyers expect the D.C. Circuit to indefinitely delay the lawsuit, but supporters of the climate rule are holding out hope that the court will issue an opinion.
"We still think that the best thing to have happen would be for the court to decide that case," Spalding said.
A move by the D.C. Circuit upholding the legality of the Clean Power Plan could complicate Pruitt's arguments that the repeal is needed because EPA overstepped its authority under the Clean Air Act.
Pat Parenteau, a professor at Vermont Law School, said he expects that the case "just sits there." It's possible that Trump administration lawyers could ask to dismiss it as moot, given plans to roll back the rule in question, he said. "It seems to me like they could."
Backers of the Clean Power Plan could also ask the Supreme Court to remove the stay, potentially arguing that EPA has an obligation to regulate power plants' emissions and that the Trump administration is slowing down that process.
"Going to the Supreme Court is a possibility," Spalding said. "We would definitely have to see what EPA says in this proposal."
The Supreme Court could also ultimately be asked to weigh in on the Trump administration's repeal and possibly forthcoming replacement rule.
The Federal Register
The federal regulatory process is a lengthy one, with a host of bureaucratic steps agencies are required to take before finalizing rules.
Once EPA's repeal plans are published in the Federal Register, the agency will start receiving a deluge of comments expressing a wide range of views. The Obama EPA received more than 4.3 million comments on its draft Clean Power Plan. The agency is required to respond to those comments — although it can do so broadly — when it finalizes its plans.
"I'm sure there are going to be a lot of comments," said Revesz of NYU Law School.
EPA is also expected to hold a public hearing, where supporters and opponents of the rule will likely come out in droves.
Eventually, the agency will issue its final repeal plan. "I'd be shocked if it was in 2017. My guess is it'll be 2018," Revesz said.
The agency will go through that same process with its planned replacement, if it decides to issue one. A leaked copy of the draft rule suggests that EPA is leaving the door open to not replacing the rule. But if an alternative is pursued, it would be much narrower. The agency is expected to take comments on a possible replacement soon and could issue another draft regulation in the coming months.
Jeff Holmstead, a former EPA air chief who's now an industry attorney at Bracewell LLP, expects the administration to finish both the repeal and a replacement rule in Trump's first term. He speculated both of those could be finalized within the next 18 months. He also expects that the litigation over the Clean Power Plan repeal and replacement rules "would probably be finished before the end of Trump's first term."
Industry vs. industry
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is hearing competing views from industries about how to replace the rule — if at all.
That industry infighting could complicate the push to get a new policy out the door.
Some of Trump's allies in the energy world — including coal magnate Bob Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corp. — are pushing the administration to obliterate the rule with no replacement.
Other industry groups — including some utilities, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers — have pushed the administration for a dramatically scaled-back version of the Obama-era rule. A replacement is needed to give their industries certainty, they argue.
I "certainly expect that they will do a replacement rule even though they've left open the possibility that they might not," Holmstead said.
Congressional Democrats have made it clear they're no fans of Pruitt's climate rollbacks, but their hands are largely tied by their minority status.
"There's very little if anything they can do at this point in time," said Jim Manley, former spokesman for then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
He added, "If you look back at the last nine years, I think Democrats have become very aggressive about working with individual states to push back on the regulatory front, and I expect that to be the case here as well with plenty of pro-environment Democrats trying to elevate the issue to the extent possible."
Democrats may be able to play defense against broader attempts to change clean air laws, said David Doniger, a climate attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"The single most important thing they can do is prevent changes in the Clean Air Act," he said. "Republicans can't pass legislation to deny climate science or to revoke the obligations to deal with climate. ... The Clean Air Act will outlast this administration."
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have applauded the rollback of the Clean Power Plan. Pruitt opted to appear alongside Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in Kentucky yesterday to announce that the formal repeal was coming.
"For years, the Obama administration waged a war on coal and issued heavy-handed regulations to pick winners and losers among energy industries," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said in a statement. "It's refreshing to see how committed the Trump administration is to pursuing a true all-of-the-above energy policy, and Administrator Pruitt's announcement is another sign that America's energy strategy is headed in the right direction."
Supporters of the Clean Power Plan are also hoping to make some gains with messaging campaigns.
"There's a battle in the court of public opinion and also in the legal courts," Doniger said.
He and others are pointing to the huge health benefits that EPA estimated the Clean Power Plan would bring. The Trump administration appears poised to argue that many of those benefits were wrongly counted.
Some early talking points by environmentalists accuse the Trump administration of allowing premature deaths by rescinding the rule.
"With this news, Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt will go down in infamy for launching one of the most egregious attacks ever on public health, our climate, and the safety of every community in the United States," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement yesterday. "The damage caused by Trump's willful ignorance will now have myriads of human faces, because he's proposing to throw out a plan that would prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of childhood asthma attacks every year."
Conservatives, meanwhile, are arguing that the rule is helping workers and the economy.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) — who's running for Senate in the Mountain State — led states in a lawsuit against the regulation.
"I was humbled to have led the state-based coalition that defeated the Power Plan in court through an unprecedented stay at the Supreme Court and am excited that the Trump Administration is taking the final step to kill this terrible, job-killing regulation," he said in a statement yesterday. "I believe these actions will help lead to a rebound for coal and will make lives better for coal miners and their families."
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Yes, there is such a thing as thirdhand smoke and it’s more dangerous than you think.
Thirdhand smoke is residual chemicals that include nicotine left on surfaces by tobacco smokers. We are exposed to these chemicals by touching contaminated surfaces or breathing in the off-gassing from these surfaces. This residue can react with common indoor pollutants to create toxic mixes including cancer-causing compounds, which pose a potential health hazard to the smoker, non-smokers and children.
Thirdhand smoke clings to clothes, furniture, drapes, walls, bedding, carpets, dust, vehicles and other surfaces long after the smoker is gone. The residue from thirdhand smoke builds up on surfaces over time. To remove the residue, hard surfaces, fabrics and upholstery need to be regularly cleaned or laundered. You can’t eliminate thirdhand smoke by airing out rooms, opening windows, using fans or air conditioners, or confining smoking to only certain areas of a building.
Children and non-smoking adults are at risk of tobacco-related health problems when they inhale, swallow or touch substances containing thirdhand smoke. Infants and young children might have increased exposure to thirdhand smoke due to their tendency to mouth objects and touch affected surfaces.
When researchers examined children who arrived in the emergency room with breathing problems associated with second-hand smoke exposure, they found alarming facts. They discovered the average level of nicotine on the children’s hands was more than three times higher than the level of nicotine found on the hands of non-smoking adults who live with smokers. They said nicotine on the skin of a non-smoker is a good proxy to measure exposure to thirdhand smoke.
While thirdhand smoke is a relatively new concept, and researchers are still studying its possible dangers, common sense should tell you there is danger. In the meantime, the only way to protect non-smokers from thirdhand smoke is to create a smoke-free environment.
Thirdhand smoke can linger in an area long after the smoke has cleared. It can take up to five years to clear.
Almost half (46.8 percent) of Black non-smokers in the United States are exposed to smoke or smoke residuals. Tobacco smoke exposure is higher among people with low incomes. Two out of every five non-smokers (43.2 percent) who live below the poverty line were exposed to smoke residuals. This means if you are Black and below the poverty line, you are almost assured you will be exposed to thirdhand smoke.
Thirdhand smoke occurs when non-smokers breathe in other people’s smoke residuals. This includes direct smoke, smoke that is drawn through a cigarette mouthpiece, pipe or cigar and then exhaled into the air by smokers, the smoke that comes directly from burning tobacco and any residual substances left behind after the smoker has left the area. Thirdhand smoke contains the same harmful chemicals as the smoke that smokers inhale. Direct smoke is even more dangerous because it is formed at lower temperatures and gives off even larger amounts of some cancer-causing substances.
Thirdhand smoke also affects non-smokers by causing eye irritation, headaches, nausea and dizziness. Children of parents who smoke are more likely to suffer from pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections, coughing, wheezing, increased mucus production and asthma. Several studies have also shown a link between smoking parents and SIDS. Children of smoking parents have a greater chance of dying of SIDS.
Thirdhand smoke has been shown, in mice, to damage the liver and lungs, complicate wound healing and cause hyperactivity. Thirdhand smoke can increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Can you develop cancer from smelling smoke odors on clothing or being in a room where people have been smoking? There is no medical research about the cancer-causing effects of tobacco odors, but the medical research shows that the particles that make up second-hand tobacco smoke and thirdhand residuals can attach itself to hair, clothing and other surfaces. Any amount of smoke is dangerous and will cause health problems.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified second-hand smoke or environmental tobacco smoke as a Group A carcinogen. This means it causes cancer in humans. The Group A designation has been used by the EPA for only 15 other pollutants. This list of pollutants includes radon, asbestos and benzene. The EPA has also called environmental tobacco smoke a public health epidemic.
Thirdhand smoke contains over 7,000 chemical compounds. More than 70 of these are known to cause cancer. Some of the toxins or irritants in second-hand smoke include carbon monoxide, nicotine, hydrogen cyanide, ammonia, formaldehyde and sulfur dioxide. Carcinogens in thirdhand smoke include benzene, aromatic amines (especially carcinogens such as 2-naphthylamine and 4-aminobiphenyl), vinyl chloride, arsenic, nitrosamines and cadmium. The greater your exposure to thirdhand smoke, the greater your level of these harmful compounds in your body.
There are three locations where you have to be concerned about exposure to second- or thirdhand smoke — your workplace, who children spend time public places and your home.
Here is what you can do to reduce the health risks of passive smoke:
In Your Home
Making your home smoke-free is the most important thing you can do. All family members will develop health problems related to second-hand smoke if anyone smokes in your house. A smoke-free home protects your family, your guests and even your pets. Don’t let anyone smoke in your home.
Where Children Spend Time
Every organization dealing with children should have a smoking policy that effectively protects children from exposure to thirdhand smoke. This should include day-care providers, preschools, schools and other caregivers for your children.
In the Workplace
The only way to protect workers is to prohibiting smoking indoors, around entrances to buildings and in common recreational areas. The EPA recommends that every company have a smoking policy that effectively protects non-smokers from involuntary thirdhand smoke. Simply separating smokers and non-smokers within the same area, such as a cafeteria and indoor and outdoor recreational areas, may reduce exposure, but non-smokers will still be exposed to recirculated smoke or smoke drifting into non-smoking areas.
Tobacco smoke doesn’t go up in the air and disappear. It settles on everything.
Call the American Cancer Society at (800) 227-2345 for more information on quitting.
If you have a fitness question or concern, write to “Tips to be Fit,” PO Box 53443, Philadelphia, PA 19105, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous articles can be found at www.phillytrib.com by searching “Tips to be Fit.”
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Monday his agency's plans to withdraw the Clean Power Plan, the sweeping Obama-era rule regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
While speaking in Kentucky at an event with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Pruitt said he will sign the proposed rule repealing Obama's plan Tuesday.
"When you think about what that rule meant, it was about picking winners and losers. Regulatory power should not be used by any regulatory body to pick winners and losers," he said at the event. "The past administration was using every bit of power and authority to use the EPA to pick winners and losers and how we generate electricity in this country. That's wrong."
CNN obtained a copy of the leaked proposal to repeal the milestone Clean Power Plan, the outcome of President Donald Trump's executive orders calling for the review of the plan and questions the legality of the original rule.
"Under the interpretation proposed in this notice, the CPP exceeds the EPA's statutory authority and would be repealed," the proposal reads. "The EPA welcomes comment on the legal interpretation addressed in this proposed rulemaking."
The proposal also says the EPA has yet to determine whether it will create an additional rule on the regulation of greenhouse gases.
EPA to propose repealing Obama-era rule on greenhouse gas emissions
Bloomberg News first reported on the repeal proposal.
The Clean Power Plan requires states to meet specific carbon emission reduction standards based on their individual energy consumption. The plan also includes an incentive program for states to get a head start on meeting standards on early deployment of renewable energy and low-income energy efficiency.
Under President Barack Obama, the EPA estimated the Clean Power Plan could prevent 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children.
When asked earlier this year on Fox News about the health consequences of doing away with the Clean Power Plan, Pruitt ducked the question and focused on how the plan would cost jobs. He argued the plan was bureaucratic overreach.
"As much as we want to see progress made with clean air and clean water, with an understanding that we can also grow jobs, we have to do so within the framework of what Congress has passed," Pruitt said.
Former EPA employees have reacted harshly to the planned repeal of the rule. Obama's EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, called the proposal "just plain backwards."
"A proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan without any time line or even a commitment to propose a rule to reduce carbon pollution, isn't a step forward, it's a wholesale retreat from EPA's legal, scientific and moral obligation to address the threats of climate change," McCarthy said in a statement Friday.
Environmental advocacy groups quickly blasted Pruitt's decision, with many vowing to fight the measure in court.
"Now the public has an opportunity to weigh in, as EPA is required to accept public comment on the proposed repeal and a discussion paper on a replacement," Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement Monday. "In addition, NRDC expects to take EPA to court when the Clean Power Plan repeal is made final."
When reports of the EPA's planned move began to be reported over the weekend, Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said repealing the plan without replacing it with any protections from "climate-destabilizing pollution" would fail to protect Americans from harmful pollution designated under the Clean Air Act.
And Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said Trump and Pruitt are launching "one of the most egregious attacks" on public health and climate safety.
"No matter who is in the White House, the EPA is legally required to limit dangerous carbon pollution, and the Clean Power Plan is an achievable, affordable way to do that," Brune said in a Monday news release. "It is a key element in continuing the progress moving toward clean energy and retiring coal."
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose philanthropy said it would donate $15 million toward supporting operations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change after the Trump administration announced intentions to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, tweeted his criticism of the repeal proposal Monday.
"The EPA can repeal the Clean Power Plan but not the laws of economics," Bloomberg tweeted. "This won't revive coal or stop the US from reaching our Paris goal."
A warming climate and polluted air are all we have to gain from keeping dirty power plants running.
BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD
The Clean Power Plan would level the economic playing field for Maine, which has to compete with parts of the country where electricity produced at dirty power plants, like the Homer City Generating Station in Homer City, Pa., above, is inexpensive. Associated Press/Keith Srakocic
Heat-trapping greenhouse gases and toxic particles spew from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants all through the Rust Belt.
We don’t have those kinds of plants here in Maine, but we have plenty of evidence that they exist.
EPA chief to lift limits on emissions, says ‘war on coal is over’
Our winters are wetter and shorter than they used to be, thanks to climate change. Lobstermen report that their quarry is moving north and east to find colder water.
And Maine children have some of the highest rates of asthma in the nation, partly as a result of our position downwind from the power plants in the Midwest and Great Lakes states, putting young lungs at the end of the nation’s tailpipe.
Read more Portland Press Herald editorials
So Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt’s boast Monday that “The war on coal is over!” probably sounded like great news to a few hundred people in Kentucky and West Virginia who might get work as a result of his upending the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan rules, but it should be clear why he didn’t make that announcement here.
Maine will be a big loser both environmentally and economically if Pruitt is successful, and Maine’s leaders should fight to make sure that he doesn’t succeed.
One-third of the greenhouse gases emitted in this country come from fossil fuel-burning power plants, mostly coal and natural gas. The Clean Power Plan created a financial incentive to produce less pollution over time. Since coal plants are the dirtiest, logic would dictate that they would be the first to go.
That might be bad news in the short term for people who own mining companies or utility stock, but it would speed the transition to other sources of power that do not have the same negative effects. The number of jobs in the solar power industry has already outstripped the number of jobs in coal mining, and it’s reasonable to assume that the trend will continue, as solar collector and battery technology get less expensive and more effective.
The Clean Power Plan would also level the economic playing field for Maine, which has to compete with parts of the country where electricity produced at dirty power plants is cheap. Not only do we have to pay more for our power than consumers in the coal belt, but we have to live with the consequences of the pollution that they produce.
And more importantly, there is no safe amount of pollution. Research by the American Lung Association has confirmed that every reduction of toxic chemicals in the air we breathe correlates to a reduction in illness and death. Children are especially sensitive to diseases caused by exposure to the airborne particles that are blown here on prevailing winds.
Pruitt claims that he is protecting the American people from government, but this is a time when we need the government to protect us from those who would value cheap electricity and quarterly profits above the public well-being.
By announcing an end to “the war on coal,” Pruitt and the administration are ramping up the war on clean air and a healthy environment. At this end of the tailpipe, that’s nothing to celebrate.
By Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis October 9 at 4:07 PM Follow @eilperin Follow @brady_dennis
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt at the White House in June. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told coal miners in Kentucky on Monday that he will move to repeal a rule limiting greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants, assuring them, “The war against coal is over.”
Speaking at an event in Hazard, Ky., with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Pruitt said his agency will publish the new proposed rule Tuesday.
“Tomorrow, in Washington, D.C., I’ll be a signing a proposed rule to withdraw the so-called Clean Power Plan of the past administration, and thus begin the effort to withdraw that rule,” Pruitt said.
[Trump administration will propose repealing Obama’s key effort to combat climate change]
A 43-page draft of the proposal, which was obtained by The Washington Post and other news outlets last week, argues that the agency overstepped its legal authority in seeking to force utilities to reduce carbon emissions outside their actual facilities to meet federal emissions targets. It does not offer a replacement plan for regulating emissions of carbon dioxide, which the Supreme Court has ruled that the EPA is obligated to do. Rather, the agency said it plans to seek public input on how best to cut emissions from natural-gas and coal-fired power plants.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said in an interview Monday that Pruitt chose to speak about his plans in Kentucky because coal workers have a direct economic stake in policies aimed at curbing emissions from coal burning. “He’s speaking directly to people in coal country about how the rule negatively affected the whole industry,” Bowman said.
Reaction to the announcement was sharply divided, with environmental and public health advocates decrying it, and industry groups welcoming the move.
“With this news, Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt will go down in infamy for launching one of the most egregious attacks ever on public health, our climate, and the safety of every community in the United States,” Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement. “He’s proposing to throw out a plan that would prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of childhood asthma attacks every year.”
National Rural Electric Cooperative Association chief executive Jim Matheson, one of the utility groups that challenged the Obama-era rule, said rescinding the regulation would provide his members with the flexibility to use their existing plants to provide “reliable, affordable power” to local customers. Sixty-two percent of coop-owned generation is coal-fired, according to the association, while natural gas accounts for 26 percent, nuclear power 10 percent and renewables 2 percent.
“That’s what we’re really looking for, is flexibility so they can meet their individual consumers’ needs,” Matheson said Monday.
Some critics of the rule said Monday that they were open to a more limited regulation aimed at addressing carbon emissions from power plants.
Ross Eisenberg, vice president of energy and resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a statement that his group “agrees with the EPA’s conclusion that this regulation was broader than what the law allows, which is why we joined 28 states in challenging it in federal court.”
“At the same time, we recognize the need for a policy to address greenhouse gas emissions,” Eisenberg added, saying “The NAM supports a greenhouse gas policy going forward that is narrowly tailored and consistent with the Clean Air Act.”
The Clean Power Plan, which aimed to decrease the nation’s carbon pollution by about one-third by 2030, compared with 2005 levels, has long been subject to intense legal fights — and that much is unlikely to change.
During his time as Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt joined other opponents in suing the Obama administration, arguing that it did not have legal authority to force states to form detailed plans to reduce CO2 emissions from such sources as coal-fired power plants. Pruitt sided with industry officials who insisted that the EPA’s regulations would unfairly force power-plant owners to shut down or essentially subsidize competing clean-energy industries.
[One of the oldest climate change experiments has led to a troubling conclusion]
Environmental groups and other supporters argued on the side of the Obama White House, saying the administration had standing under the Clean Air Act to put in place the effort, which they called a much-needed measure to help nudge the nation toward cleaner sources of energy and improve public health.
Early last year, the Supreme Court blocked the regulation’s implementation after 28 states and a host of other opponents challenged its legality. Its 5-to-4 decision did not address the merits of the lawsuit, came just days before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Meanwhile, a 10-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in September 2016 heard oral arguments on the case, but did not issue a ruling before the Trump administration took office and requested time to reconsider the rule.
[EPA inspector general expands investigation of Pruitt’s use of military, private flights]
Monday’s announcement that the EPA would seek to rescind the Clean Power Plan, with no promise of replacing it, brought promises of even more legal fights ahead. Attorneys general of multiple states — California, New York and Massachusetts among them — vowed to challenge the Trump administration’s decision. A 2009 EPA determination is still in place finding that carbon dioxide constitutes a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, so the agency will have to justify how it is complying with that finding as it rolls back the existing regulation.
“Along with our partners, Massachusetts fought for years to put this rule in place, and we will be suing to protect the Clean Power Plan from the climate change deniers in this administration who are trying to move us backwards,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement Monday.
The EPA’s latest proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan comes months after President Trump issued a directive instructing the Environmental Protection Agency to begin rewriting the controversial 2015 regulation, as part of a broader effort to obliterate his predecessor’s efforts to make combating climate change a top government priority.
A central piece of Obama’s environmental legacy, the Clean Power Plan aims to slash the greenhouse-gas emissions that scientists agree are fueling the planet’s rapid warming. It also was an integral part of the commitment U.S. officials made as part of a historic international climate accord signed in late 2015 in Paris, from which Trump has said he intends to withdraw.
In a statement Monday, former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, who shepherded the rule during Obama’s second term, said that a proposal to repeal it “without any timeline or even a commitment to propose a rule to reduce carbon pollution, isn’t a step forward, it’s a wholesale retreat from EPA’s legal, scientific and moral obligation to address the threats of climate change.”
“The Supreme Court has concluded multiple times that EPA is obligated by law to move forward with action to regulate greenhouse gases, but this administration has no intention of following the law,” McCarthy said.
Michael Greenstone, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago who worked on climate policy for Obama, said in an interview Friday that the EPA had deliberately downplayed the benefits of curbing carbon to justify revoking the power-plant regulation.
“It does not feel like an effort to refresh the cost-benefit analysis to make sure it’s on the frontiers of science,” Greenstone said about the leaked proposal. “It seems like an effort to find the levers that will make the benefits go down.”
Chris Mooney contributed to this report.
The scale of London’s air pollution crisis was laid bare on Wednesday, with new figures showing that every person in the capital is breathing air that exceeds global guidelines for one of the most dangerous toxic particles.
The research, based on the latest updated London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, shows that every area in the capital exceeds World Health Organisation (WHO) limits for a damaging type of particle known as PM2.5.
It also found that 7.9 million Londoners – nearly 95% of the capital’s population – live in areas that exceed the limit by 50% or more. In central London the average annual levels are almost double the WHO limit of 10 µg/m3.
The findings, described as “sickening” by London mayor Sadiq Khan, have serious health implications – especially for children – with both short and long-term exposure to these particulates increasing the likelihood of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Health experts say that youngsters exposed to these toxic pollutants are more likely to grow up with reduced lung function and develop asthma.
Khan said: “It’s sickening to know that not a single area of London meets World Health Organisation health standards, but even worse than that, nearly 95% of the capital is exceeding these guidelines by at least 50%.”
London is widely recognised as the worst area for air pollution in the UK, although there is growing evidence that dangerously polluted air is damaging people’s health in towns and cities across the country.
Khan added: “We should be ashamed that our young people – the next generation of Londoners – are being exposed to these tiny particles of toxic dust that are seriously damaging their lungs and shortening their life expectancy. I understand this is really difficult for Londoners, but that’s why I felt it was so important that I made this information public so people really understand the scale of the challenge we face in London.”
Levels of PM2.5 across London
The mayor’s office said around half of PM2.5 in London is from sources outside the city. However, the main sources of PM2.5 emissions in London are from tyre and brake wear, construction and wood burning.
Last week Khan unveiled plans to limit the use of wood burning stoves in the capital from 2025 and tighten up regulations to make sure all new stoves from 2022 are as clean as possible.
He has also set out a range of plans to tackle pollution from diesel cars in the capital. The first stage, the new T-Charge, which will charge older, more polluting vehicles entering central London, starts later this month.
Clean air campaigners have welcomed Khan’s plans, which include the introduction of a low emission zone in 2019, but have called on the mayor to take more urgent, immediate action in light of the scale of the crisis.
Revealed: thousands of children at London schools breathe toxic air
The mayor was due to release the latest findings on Wednesday morning as he signed London up to the Breathe Life coalition organised by WHO, UN Environment and Clean Climate and Clean Air Coalition, at a special conference at City Hall.
The initiative aims to connect similar world cities, combine expertise, share best practice and work together to improve air quality.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, welcomed London’s support and Khan’s measures aimed at tackling air pollution.
“To ensure good health, every person must be able to breathe clean air no matter where they live. London’s plan to clean up their air means millions of people will be able to walk to work and walk their children to school without worrying about whether the air is going to make them sick. More cities around the world must also follow suit.”
Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said: “This is great news for Londoners. This support for the Breathe Life campaign and Sadiq Khan’s leadership means that millions of people can cease being hostage to toxic fumes. It sets an example of positive action that we hope cities around the world will follow.”
Paul Morozzo, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace said: “London air isn’t safe to breathe. Every person in London is affected by this crisis – old or young, healthy or ill. The air you breathe in London is putting your health at risk now and in the future, whether you realise it or not.
“Restricting diesel will make a big difference to both PM and nitrogen oxide air pollution in London, which is why the mayor has no choice but to get tough on cleaning up our roads.”
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “Quite frankly, this research beggars belief and is deeply concerning for every Londoner. Toxic air is poisoning our children, making existing lung conditions worse, such as asthma. The mayor cannot solve this public health crisis without government support. We urgently need changes to taxation for new diesel vehicles and a diesel scrappage scheme.”
Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green party, said: “The mayor needs to decide whether he is going to commit to take the air pollution epidemic seriously or not. And that means making the right choices over the big polluting decisions. Creating pollution with one hand and then trying to waft it away with the other is no solution.
“The mayor can’t credibly claim to be tackling London’s dirty air when he is actively contributing to it by building the Silvertown tunnel, backing City airport expansion and failing to bring in a moratorium on waste incineration.”
New ozone pollution rules are taking effect today that are aimed at reducing medical costs and saving lives. But those regulations are the same ones that the Trump administration had wanted to rewrite and to delay.
The Obama administration had initially approved the rule in 2015. Ground-level ozone pollution is created when the emissions from power plants, cars and factories have reacted to sunlight. It’s especially bad during the summer and in congested cities. As a result of the chemical reaction, smog forms that is tied to respiratory illnesses and heart ailments.
But manufacturing groups, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Association, had said that the rules would burden business and that the total cost to comply could be in the billions and exceed EPA’s own estimates. They furthermore note that ozone pollution levels have fallen 33% since 1980, leading them to ask Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency to delay the rules — something that the administration had sought to do in June. However, EPA changed its mind in August after getting sued by 16 state attorney generals.
“Our research shows that efforts to reduce ozone extend lifespans,” says Michael Greenstone, co-author of a report issued by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute. “While previous research had suggested this, the especially novel finding here is that pollution reductions lead to significant reductions in the purchase of medications that protect people from becoming sick or even dying prematurely … The implications for air pollution policy are potentially enormous.”
The Congressional Research Service adds that about 40% of the U.S. population live in regions that do not yet meet the national standards.
The current ozone rule sets the standard at 70-parts per billion. Under the Bush administration, it had been 75-parts per billion — a rule adopted in 2008. The Clean Air Act requires a review of the law every five years, although it does not necessitate that it be changed.
Manufacturers and oil and gas developers are saying that the ozone rule is too costly and that it is inflexible. That said, those same groups earned a victory of sorts with regard to the 2015 ozone rule because the Obama team backed off its efforts to lower that standard to as little as 60-parts per billion. Environmentalist, meanwhile, wanted the standard to be 65-parts per billion.
As it stands now, state and metropolitan governments would need to be in compliance with the 70-parts per billion standard by 2025. As such, they must develop game plans to achieve success. If they fail to comply, then the federal government could withhold federal funding for such things as highways. It would be EPA’s job to monitor the market.
Obama’s EPA had estimated that by 2025, the 2015 standard of 70-parts per billion will prevent 230,000 asthma attacks in children. The American Lung Association concurs, saying that 115 million Americans breathe unhealthy air tied to smog. The agency has also said that the Obama-era ozone rules would produce benefits of $3 billion to $6 billion a year while the cost of it would be about $1.4 billion annually.
The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives is sympathetic to businesses’ position, passing legislation in June that would delay the implementation date of the ozone rule until at least 2025. But getting a bill out of the U.S. Senate is unlikely given that 60 votes are necessary there to overcome a filibuster.
“States, along with business and industry, have been working hard to improve the U.S. air quality for many years,” the US Chamber of Commerce wrote, in support of that legislation.
"Indeed, ozone levels have decreased 33% since 1980, and ozone levels will continue to decline as states implement the 2008 ozone (ambient air standards,” it added. “EPA itself projects that most of the U.S. will meet the 2015 ozone standard of 70 parts per billion by 2025 simply by implementing existing air standards, such as the 2008 ozone standards.”
Imagine this: an American and a Canadian are in a room with billions of dollars free for the taking. The American can’t believe her luck, helps herself to some money, and shares it fairly with the American public. But the Canadian, wanting to make sure the money is actually just sitting there, does nothing — leaving the Canadian public penniless.
That, in a nutshell, is the difference between America’s and Canada’s government when it comes to taking action against Volkswagen for its emissions cheating. The U.S. has been swift enough to secure billions of dollars in fines from the company, as criminal and civil penalties for breaking environmental law. But our federal Environment Ministry has done nothing.
It has been more than two years since news broke of Volkswagen cheating and then lying about the pollution caused by its diesel cars. Volkswagen equipped these vehicles with a secret software “defeat device” that switches between “clean” mode during pollution testing, and “dirty” mode when driving in the real world. This illegal hack caused Volkswagen’s cars to spew as much as 35 times the lawful amount of toxic substances, such as nitrogen oxides — known to increase asthma attacks, hospital admissions, and deaths, particularly among young children — into the air.
Once they discovered the defeat device, American law enforcement pounced. They laid criminal and civil charges so extensively that they could have squashed the company. Rather than risk death, Volkswagen cried uncle, pleaded guilty, and voluntarily paid $14.7 billion US in legal settlements — several billion of which went toward cleaning up the environment and building green infrastructure.
In other words, faced with a massive, credible legal risk, Volkswagen confessed and paid up — at least in the U.S.
You might think that a bonanza of billions of dollars, from a company that’s willing to pay, would interest Environment Canada in enforcing the law in Canada. But you would be wrong: Environment Canada has never laid charges against Volkswagen. That continues to be true even though the company’s guilty plea in the U.S. contains a clause that forbids Volkswagen contradicting and walking back from its confessions, anytime or anywhere — including in a courtroom in Canada.
In other words, Volkswagen’s admission of guilt in the U.S. is locked in; recanting it is not an option. That makes subsequent prosecutions in Canada very easy.
Happily, the Province of Ontario gets this. On Sept. 15, the province charged Volkswagen for violating provincial pollution laws, and soon after sent dozens of officers to raid Volkswagen Canada’s headquarters. That’s good for Ontario, which will almost certainly succeed in prosecuting Volkswagen. But it is an embarrassment for Canada’s government, which did not co-ordinate with Ontario to enforce Canada’s laws as well.
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If Environment Canada were serious about prosecuting Volkswagen, the financial implications are huge. Volkswagen imported more than 105,000 cars with the illegal “defeat device” into Canada, and each car represents a separate criminal act. Multiplied by the minimum $1 million penalty per act under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, that works out to a possible fine of $105 billion! It’s a pretty safe bet that if Canada’s government laid those charges, Volkswagen would beat a path to the negotiating table and volunteer to pay a few billion to settle the matter. That beats the alternative of a criminal trial, which could end with a fine so large as to destroy the company, which nobody wants.
So why hasn’t Environment Canada tried to do this? We’ve never received a convincing answer. Officials say that Canada can’t prosecute a German company like Volkswagen, but that is nonsense: the U.S. did it, and Ontario is doing it. Besides, there’s that guilty plea. If the staff can’t figure out how to prosecute a company that’s confessed its guilt, then what can they prosecute?
All Canadians are losing out over this inaction. The current government came to power promising to be on the side of the law, protecting the environment, being fiscally responsible, backing Canada’s auto builders and unions, and building green infrastructure. If that’s really true, and we hope it is, then the government needs to enforce the Canadian Environmental Protection Act; needs to punish polluters; needs to pick billions of dollars of low-hanging fruit; needs to stop Volkswagen competing against Canada’s carmakers by cheating; and needs to look on this event as an opportunity for our future.
Look at America: it cornered Volkswagen, and is better for it. For example, there’s the $2 billion US that Volkswagen is paying to build electric car charging stations across the U.S. — an investment in green infrastructure that will serve the American environment and American people for decades to come, without costing the taxpayer a penny.
Would Minister McKenna, or anyone else in the Trudeau government, please explain why that is a bad outcome and why Canada can’t do the same? If not, then hurry up please, and prosecute Volkswagen. It’s overdue, and the excuses aren’t persuasive.
Amir Attaran is a lawyer with Ecojustice’s law clinic at the University of Ottawa, Tim Gray is executive director with Environmental Defence and Kim Perrotta is executive director with Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).
JUNCOS, Puerto Rico — In the heat and humidity here in the central mountains, Meryanne Aldea fanned her bedridden mother with a piece of cardboard Sunday as the ailing woman lay on her side, relieving a large ulcer in her back.
The 63-year-old mother, Maria Dolores Hernandez, had cotton stuffed in her ears to keep flies out, since her now screenless windows were letting all sorts of bugs in. The gray-haired diabetic woman spoke with her daughter about her worries: that she would run out of prescription drugs, that they were almost out of generator fuel to keep her insulin refrigerated and to run the fans at night. With all the heat, she feared that her ulcer would become infected.
But she worried most about her daughter’s home on the floor above hers, which was destroyed by Hurricane Maria. The shrieking winds had ripped off the zinc roof and the pounding rains had soaked the unprotected rooms below. While the outer concrete walls were mostly intact, everything else was ruined, covered by dirty tree branches, leaves, glass and debris.
Aldea reached out to hold her mother’s hand.
“Relax,” she said. “It’s okay.”
Four days after a major hurricane battered Puerto Rico, leaving the entire island in a communications and power blackout, regions outside San Juan remained disconnected from the rest of the island — and the world. Juncos, in a mountainous region southeast of the capital that was slammed with Maria’s most powerful winds, remains isolated, alone, afraid.
For many residents, the challenge of accessing the essentials of modern life — gasoline, cash, food, water — began to sink in. And government officials had no answers for them. Estimates for the return of electricity and basic services will be measured not in days but in weeks and months. For those most vulnerable, far too long.
Many have been openly wondering when help will arrive, whether from local officials or from the federal government. The first thing some villagers ask when they see outsiders: “Are you FEMA?”
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is warning that his government needs broader assistance from the federal government, calling on the Pentagon especially to provide more aid for law enforcement and transportation. Rosselló said he’s also worried that Congress will shortchange his island once the initial wave of emergency relief is gone.
“We still need some more help. This is clearly a critical disaster in Puerto Rico,” he said Sunday night. “It can’t be minimized and we can’t start overlooking us now that the storm passed, because the danger lurks.”
For federal agencies trying to respond to Maria, the situation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is inescapably more challenging than the situations in Texas and Florida after hurricanes Harvey and Irma. It’s difficult to get onto the islands.
The airports and harbors here were severely damaged. That means the islands are more isolated than ever, even as the humanitarian crisis has worsened by the day.
So although massive amounts of food, water, fuel and other supplies have been dispatched by federal agencies and private organizations, with more resources on the way, this has been an obstacle-filled process.
Federal agencies have succeeded in clearing the use of the Port of San Juan for daytime operations, but other ports remain closed pending inspections. Many roads are blocked, inhibiting relief convoys. The Transportation Department has opened five airports in Puerto Rico and two in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but only for military and relief efforts.
Six commercial cargo ships have delivered supplies including food, water and generators to the Caribbean islands, and more supplies are on the way by ship from Florida and by air from Florida and Kentucky. Among the provisions: The Defense Logistics Agency is sending 124,000 gallons of diesel fuel to Puerto Rico.
In addition to concerns about basic survival, on the west side of the island worries have intensified about a ruptured dam that has been tenuously holding back the waters of Lake Guajataca. Government officials said Sunday that the “fissure” in the dam is “large and will collapse at any time.” Throngs of residents in nearby towns have been urged to evacuate. The dam’s failure could lead to massive amounts of water flowing unabated through coastal communities.
In Juncos, scores of homes were destroyed, and thousands of homes sustained damage, Mayor Alfredo Alejandro estimated. Four highways are inaccessible by car, and two bridges were harmed. Roofs of homes all over town are gone, and almost all government buildings were damaged.
Mountains typically brimming with trees and other vegetation are brown and desolate, stripped of all greenery. The mayor of 17 years said he discovered a river he never knew existed in his town, because it was always overgrown with plants. Curved bamboo lining the winding roads were left as bare sticks.
Less than a week ago, Alejandro said, “I had a pretty town.”
“Today I have a desert,” he said.
Puerto Rico’s executive director of emergency management said in an interview that aerial views of destruction in this region looked “more like a tornado than a hurricane.”
But Maria’s destruction in the town was just the beginning. The mayor said Juncos “anxiously” needs diesel, water, hospital equipment and satellite phones for local leadership.
Some local responders in Juncos were forced to clear area streets by hand with machetes, because the town doesn’t have enough chain saws.
Just two gas stations were functioning in the town, and lines stretched for more than half a mile. Some people walked and rode bicycles for miles with empty gas canisters in hand.
One of the town’s two supermarkets was open Sunday, and employees would let in only 10 people at a time to avoid chaos. Residents, who stood in line for hours, could purchase only rationed food. There is no functioning bank or cash machine in the entire municipality.
When Aldea, 37, and her 5-year-old daughter walked through her shell of a home in Juncos after the hurricane had passed, the child hardly said a word. She scoured her pink room, with pony stickers on its walls, and picked out a couple of soaked dolls and coloring books.
“We don’t have a house anymore,” Aldea explained to her daughter, Darangellie. “We’re going to have to start new with what we have.”
Aldea, who works as a secretary in the mayor’s office, is living with and taking care of her mother in the tiny room downstairs. Darangellie spends most of the days with a relative in town, but at night she sleeps with her mother. The child has asthma and needs to use a daily nebulizer treatment — requiring her mother to turn on their generator at night. They have enough diesel to power the generator for one more day.
She has a half-tank of gas left and can’t set aside the entire day that would be necessary to wait in line for more because she has to care for her daughter and mother. It doesn’t help that driving to town for her job — which usually takes seven minutes — now takes more than a half-hour because of blocked or inaccessible roads.
But Aldea remained calm. More than anything, she is thankful to be alive: “If I don’t stay strong, how can I take care of the two people who depend on me?”
Across town, a second-level three-bedroom apartment was ripped to shreds in the storm, the cooking appliances, kitchen counters and cabinets the only surviving evidence of the wooden structure.
Maribel Quiñones Rivera, 53, lived with her husband in the home for decades, raising her children and grandchildren there. During the hurricane and in the days that followed, she sought shelter with relatives in their apartment directly below.
On Sunday, she still hadn’t walked upstairs to see the debris up close. When asked why, she shook her head and cried. “I can’t,” she said.
To make matters worse, Quiñones Rivera and her relatives are out of cash — they used their last $30 to buy gasoline. They have five or six bottles of water left.
There are some moments of hope amid the misery in Juncos. On Sunday, about 30 people gathered in a small blue church for Mass. The priest apologized for the lack of a microphone and said the service would be brief.
Aida Sanchez, a member of the congregation, said she came to thank God.
“Because despite the circumstances,” she said, “we’re alive.”
Achenbach reported from Washington. Daniel Cassady in San Juan and Ed O’Keefe in Washington contributed to this report.
(Reuters Health) - Newly renovated low-income housing units in Boston earned awards for green design and building but flunked indoor air-quality tests, a new study shows.
Researchers found potentially carcinogenic levels of toxic chemicals in the remodeled homes before and after residents moved in. All of the 30 eco-friendly homes in the study had risky indoor air concentrations for at least one chemical.
“Even in green buildings, building materials contain chemicals that we’re concerned about from a health perspective,” said lead author Robin Dodson, a researcher at Silent Spring Institute in Newton, Massachusetts.
“We should not only think about the efficiency of the building but the health of the building,” she said in a phone interview.
The hazards seemed to come both from materials used to renovate the housing units as well as from occupants’ furnishings and personal-care products, the study found.
“Synthetic chemicals are ubiquitous in modern life,” said co-author Gary Adamkiewicz, an environmental health professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
“They’re in new housing, old housing, green housing, conventional housing and high- and low-income housing,” he said by email.
As reported in Environment International, Dodson, Adamkiewicz and colleagues collected air and dust samples from 10 renovated units before occupancy and from 27 units one to nine months after residents moved in between July 2013 and January 2014.
By testing the homes before and after they were occupied, investigators were able to trace the presence of nearly 100 chemicals with known or suspected health concerns to the renovation, the residents or a combination.
Both before and after occupancy, all the tested units had indoor air concentrations of formaldehyde that exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s cancer-based screening level.
The researchers expected formaldehyde, which has been associated with allergy and asthma, might leach out of building materials, and they found evidence that it did. But because formaldehyde emissions remained high after occupancy, the research team suspected that residents also brought formaldehyde in personal-care products.
Researchers also believe that flame retardants, which are suspected of causing cancer and diminishing male fertility, had been added to the building insulation.
To their surprise, they found chemicals used in sunscreen, nail polish and perfumes being emitted from building materials, possibly because they had been added to paint or floor finishes, Dodson said.
Residents appear to have brought into the renovated homes a number of health-disturbing chemicals, including antimicrobials, flame retardants, plastics and fragrances.
Flame retardant BDE-47, which appeared after residents moved in, has been banned since 2005. Dodson assumes residents carried the compound into their homes, possibly in second-hand furniture.
Consumers could improve household air quality by using products free of fragrance and other seemingly innocuous but harmful ingredients, Dodson said. But the onus should not be on consumers, she said.
“Why are manufacturers even allowed to use these chemicals in their products?” she said.
Green building standards should be broadened to prohibit use of hazardous chemicals, she said.
Tom Lent, policy director of the nonprofit Healthy Building Network in Berkeley, California, said the study provides important clues about which hazardous chemicals are being released from building materials so that green buildings can be constructed to be both energy-efficient and healthy.
“There does not need to be a conflict,” Lent, who was not involved with the study, said in an email.
But the conflict between energy-efficient building and the need to reduce toxic indoor air emissions has existed for 15 years, Asa Bradman said by email. Bradman, associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the University of California, Berkeley, was not involved with the study.
Adamkiewicz recently completed another study that suggests green buildings can be healthy, or at least healthier, he said.
He studied families who moved from old, conventional housing to new, green public housing units in Boston. The new buildings were designed to save energy and reduce exposures to indoor pollutants.
In the green units, adults wheezed and coughed less and suffered fewer headaches, he found, and children missed fewer school days and had fewer asthma attacks and hospitalizations.
SOURCE: bit.ly/2wZx8zN Environment International, online September 12, 2017.
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