Senate Democrats will hold a show trial of sorts tomorrow about air quality and asthma in children. Because Congressional Republicans generally stink at such hearings, JunkScience is releasing this fact sheet to help them out.
The witnesses appearing before Sen. Barbara Boxer’s Environment and Public Works Committee on June 8 at 10am (406 Dirksen SOB) include:
- James Ginda, supervisor of respiratory care, Kent Hospital;
- Julie Goodman, principal, Gradient;
- Patty Resnik, corporate director, Christiana Care Health System;
- Margo Thorning, senior vice president, American Council for Capital Formation;
- and Dona Upson, board member, American Lung Association of New Mexico.
The sole Republican-selected witness on this list is Margo Thorning, a very good economist but not a health effects expert. Why Republicans have failed (yet again) to put up a health effects experts is inexplicable.
So to help out Committee members interested in eliciting factual testimony about air quality and health effects, here are some simple yet salient facts:
- Our air quality continues to improve and has consistently improved over the last 30 years.
- Unfortunately, at the same time, asthma rates have increased.
- There is no direct correlation or causation that exists between air pollution and asthma—in fact, they appear inversely proportional. As our emissions have decreased, asthma rates have gone up.
- We must understand the difference between “causing” asthma, and “triggering” asthma. While a very high level of pollution (which doesn’t happen anymore anywhere in the U.S.) may be one of many factors that could conceivably trigger an asthmatic episode, like cold weather or exercise, current ambient U.S. air quality certainly doesn’t cause asthma. We don’t think there’s any evidence showing that current air quality levels even trigger asthma attacks
- Treatment, access to medical care and medicines, are essential to managing asthma.
- Less disposable family income makes it harder for parents to provide adequate medical care to their children, and creates overall unhealthier living conditions.
- Increased energy costs lead to less disposable income, particularly in low-income households, making access to proper asthma treatments more difficult.
- Bottom-line, air pollution has gone down while asthma rates have increased; at the same time increasing energy costs make it more difficult for families to afford a healthier lifestyle.
Factual Background: Air Emissions
- In the last 30 years, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants has decreased by 57%. At the same time, energy consumption increased 22% and the U.S. population grew 35%.
- EPA National Emissions Estimates show that in 1980 there were 267 million tons per year produced of these emissions. That number decreased dramatically to 107 million tons in 2009.
- Each pollutant’s percent decrease has been significant over the last 30 years. For example: Carbon Monoxide (down 61%), Lead (down 97%), Nitrogen Oxides (down 48%), Sulfur Dioxide (down (65%), and PM10 (down 83%).
- EPA: “…emissions of the common air pollutants and their precursors have been reduced substantially since 1980.” They call this “great progress in air quality improvement.”
Factual Background: Asthma Rates
- The CDC is notes that the prevalence of asthma has increased 75% from 1980-1994.
- Asthma rates among children under age 5 have increased more than 160% over the same time period.
- According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that the number of people with asthma will grow by more than 100 million by 2025.
- 70% of asthmatics also have allergies.
- According NIH, the genetic and environmental factors which cause asthma in children include: an inherited tendency to develop allergies, called atopy; parents who have asthma; certain respiratory infections during childhood; contact with some airborne allergens or exposure to some viral infections in infancy or in early childhood when the immune system is developing; multiple factors can trigger an asthma attack including allergies, cold weather, exercise, some foods, or other illnesses.
Ambitious Committee members who really want to take down the air pollution-health effects myth may want to consider JunkScience.com’s March 2011 publication, “EPA’s Clean Air Act: Pretending air pollution is worse than it is.”
Really brave Republicans would demand that Sen. Boxer produce for thorough medical examination the children who are allegedly adversely affected by current air quality. Sen. Boxer couldn’t produce one of these children to save her life.