WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Tom Udall (D-NM) today convened a joint subcommittee hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee to gather information about the impact of air pollution and other environmental contaminants on children's health. The hearing comes as the Congress continues its debate of the Clean Air Act and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pollution standards.
The subcommittee hearing, titled “Air Quality and Children's Health,” was co-chaired by the senators and featured testimony from an official with the Christiana Care Health System in Delaware, and a representative of the American Lung Association of New Mexico, among others. Carper serves as chairman of the EPW's Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety; Udall is chairman of the Subcommittee on Children's Health and Environmental Responsibility.
“Millions of our kids ride a bus to school, play on a playground or live in a community that exposes them to high levels of ozone, particle pollution or air toxics – all of which can severely impact children's health,” Carper said. “As a parent, I've spent a lot of time worrying about my own children's health. As a U.S. Senator, I worry about every child's health. The EPA's new sensible rules to reduce smog-causing pollution, as well as particle pollution, mercury pollution and other harmful air toxics can give us all cleaner air, while helping to prevent a wide variety of serious health threats to our children. And, in the end, those rules will help us achieve better health care results for less money. I will continue to work with my colleagues – Democrat and Republicans alike – to make sure that all our children have clean air to breathe, air that's free of all types of air pollution. We have made remarkable progress in cleaning up our air, but we still have a long way to go.”
“As we continue to debate the Clean Air Act and EPA air pollution standards, the information we gather from this hearing will help Congress better understand how children are impacted by poor air quality,” Udall said. “We learned that children are much more susceptible to air pollution and more likely to develop health problems – including childhood asthma – due to exposure to dirty air. Every child has a right to breathe clean air, and it's our job to keep our children healthy and safe from these pollutants, not roll back Clean Air Act standards."
Under the requirements of the Clean Air Act of 1990, the EPA is updating air pollution standards for mercury, ground level ozone (smog), and other pollutants in the next couple of years. Following a ruling from the Supreme Court, EPA is also setting standards to address air pollution linked to global warming. Higher temperatures can worsen smog conditions, and are linked to increased rates of forest fires which also worse air quality.
Smog air pollution is a contributor to childhood asthma – with approximately 1 in 13 children affected across the country. That includes approximately 47,000 kids in New Mexico and 28,000 in Delaware. Childhood asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism due to a chronic illness. It accounts for one-third of all pediatric emergency room visits, limits activity, interrupts sleep, and disrupts caregiver routines.
Dr. Dona Upson, an Albuquerque pulmonologist and board member of the American Lung Association of New Mexico, testified about the need for special protection for children from air pollutants and about the need to reduce emissions from fossil fuel power plants. She noted that power plant pollution is a significant danger in the Midwest, Southeast, Northeast, and in the Four Corners of the Southwest – the area where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado intersect.
According to the EPA, the Four Corners Power Plant is the nation's largest source of nitrogen oxides, a pollutant that is one of the precursors for both fine particulate matter and ozone, Upson testified. Upson noted that earlier this year the EPA and the plant's owner, Arizona Public Service, announced an agreement to cut emissions by 87 percent while retaining jobs and avoiding layoffs at the plant where many employees are members of the Navajo Nation.
“When these changes are made, the cleanup measures will reduce pollution, protect health, save lives and improve the view of the spectacular New Mexico landscape,” Upson testified. “EPA is proposing to take similar steps for power plants across the nation, steps that will improve health and save tens of thousands of lives, reducing harm from the air we breathe.”
Patty Resnik, a Delaware registered Respiratory Therapist and Corporate Director of Performance Improvement/Utilization Management at Christiana Care Health System, testified about the increasing number of asthma-related hospital visits for children in Delaware and the burdensome costs families and states bear when treating the disease. According to the Delaware Hospital Discharge Report, asthma was one of the top three diagnoses for the most frequent reasons for hospitalization for those aged 1-17 year in 2008 in Delaware. “I've seen the improvements in air quality that have made Delaware a healthier place to raise children -- improvements made possible by the Clean Air Act,” Resnik said. “This vital public health law sets health-based air quality standards. The EPA and states around our country have worked to implement this vital law that reduces air pollution. And it is working. It is imperative that we act now since children are one of the most vulnerable populations affected by poor air quality.”
Other witnesses giving testimony at the hearing included James E. Ginda, Supervisor of Respiratory Care at Kent Hospital in Rhode Island; Dr. Julie E. Goodman, Principal at the environmental and risk science consulting firm Gradient; and Dr. Margo Thorning, Senior Vice President of the American Council for Capital Formation.