Message to Physicians: Doctors' voices can fight pollution and poor air quality
(January 30, 2015)
I am an asthma and allergy specialist, and every day, I see the harm air pollution does to my patients’ health. No matter what kind of doctor you are you may probably be seeing it, too.
We physicians are on the front lines. At a time when health care has turned into a political minefield and when we speak out on behalf of our patients, we do so with an authority that goes beyond politics. For California doctors, speaking out in favor of AB 32, our state’s climate and clean energy law, is one of the most important public-health moves we can make.
I practice in the San Joaquin Valley, home of some of the worst air quality in the nation. That translates into higher rates of asthma attacks, ER visits, hospitalizations, COPD, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. In Fresno County, one in five children carry inhalers. In Tulare County, it’s one in four.
Geography is against us as we have the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the east and a variable pressure layer on the top that traps these toxic gases/matter namely particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and ground-level ozone when temperatures are high. Unfortunately being land–locked we get to breathe this poor air much too often.
We can’t do anything about our geography, but we can do something about air pollution and in that context, AB 32 (Global Warming Solutions Act, 2006) is a blessing. It is limiting emissions and steering our state toward cleaner energy, cleaner air, and easing the temperature trends that exacerbate our smog problem.
Of course, the problem goes beyond respiratory disease. Particulate matter enters the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular damage year after year. On the cancer front, irritating air pollution has been shown to change cell physiology and is associated with the development of cancer.
For the children I see, air pollution disrupts normal life and possibly causes developmental issues ranging from slowing lung growth to impacting physical and cognitive health. Asthma attacks mean missing school while parents miss work. On bad air days, my young patients can’t go out and play with friends, exercise or play sports. Everyday activities like relaxing with your family, doing your homework, walking to a friend’s house are impossible if you’re having trouble breathing.
My patients both young and old come from all socioeconomic levels and all walks of life. Air pollution doesn’t discriminate and we all breathe in the same air.
The California Medical Association continues its efforts in support of clean air policies and this is where we need every doctor in the state to support this notion of Cleaner Air means a healthier California. I advocate alongside the American Lung Association in California in its mission to save lives and improve lung health by bringing a scientific perspective to the debates about pollution / air quality and I truly find this rewarding. It’s also good for my patients as well as yours on being educated about current climate policies.
As a fellow physician, I would ask you to consider adding your voice to the chorus of Californians cheering on our state’s pioneering clean energy and climate policies. Draw on your education. Talk about your experience. Speak up for cleaner air and a healthier climate for your patients, your family, all Californians and well as our future generations.
Dr. Praveen Buddiga is a specialist in allergy and asthma at the Baz Allergy, Asthma, & Sinus Center; a delegate for the California Medical Association representing the Fresno-Madera Medical Society; and a volunteer for the American Lung Association in California. He received the 2014 Physician Leader of the Year award from the National Ethnic Physician Organization.