Middletown Times Herald Record: Pollution forecast: Hold your breath

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Published:  04/28/11

The annual report card from the American Lung Association is in, and the results are clear even if the air is not.

People who live in cities across the country continue to breathe air that is high in ozone and heavy with particle pollution. Because pollution travels, distance does not offer protection, especially in the Hudson River Valley. That shows up in the latest grades for Orange County, which gets an F for the number of high ozone days. The good news is that there are fewer of those days than the last time the report came out, so there is hope that the county might move up to a D in a few years. It already is pulling a C in particle pollution, but that is shaky because there were more days in the most recent period than before. If that keeps up, the grade might go down in the next report.

The air was a bit cleaner in Ulster County, with a C for ozone and an incomplete for particles. The association did not have any figures for Sullivan. All of the other counties — Dutchess, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester — got failing grades as well.

You might think that the member of Congress who represents those areas would see this as a reason to reaffirm her support for the laws that have struggled to clean the air for five decades and ensure the funding for the agencies that have worked to implement those laws with bipartisan support, starting when Richard Nixon was in the White House.

You might think that a member of Congress with one Ivy League degree in biology and another in medicine would welcome the requests from health professionals from across the country who back the Lung Association with the clear message that "Air that is clean and safe to breathe is critical to the health of my patients."

You might think that a physician would take to heart the Lung Association's calculation of the numbers of real people at real risk from this pollution, the 10,000 children with asthma, the 27,000 adults with asthma, the 12,000 with chronic bronchitis and the 100,000 with cardiovascular disease in Orange County alone.

But you'd be wrong because Dr. Nan Hayworth does not agree with any of those requests. She thinks that the Lung Association and all those physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and others are wrong when they talk about supporting the Clean Air Act or funding the Environmental Protection Agency or preserving its power to regulate greenhouse gasses.

She has other concerns. She worries that those regulations and agencies "will drive up spending, have an impact on jobs, and raise energy costs on families and small businesses already finding it hard to make ends meet."

To that end, House Republicans are supporting legislation that says the Clean Air Act has nothing to do with climate change or global warming, and that when Congress uses the term "air pollutant," it no longer will be allowed to include "carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, or sulfur hexafluoride."

You could always write to your member of Congress about this, but with Hayworth it would just be a waste of time.