Administration Officials, National Health Organizations Join in “Town Hall” with Health Leaders to Highlight Health Impacts of Air Pollution

Groups Urge Prevention and Preparedness

WASHINGTON, D.C., (April 9, 2014)

Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh, MD, MPH, joined health leaders from the American Lung Association, American Public Health Association and others in a national “town hall” conversation on the human health impacts of air pollution, including carbon pollution from power plants, and climate change. All agreed that the Clean Air Act has driven significant cleanup of major air pollution sources including vehicles and power plants.  Yet, we must do more as a nation to protect the public from the continuing dangers of air pollution.

The event, “Chronic Disease, Air Pollution & Public Health: Risk, Prevention & Preparedness,” also featured Thomas Ferkol, MD, president-elect of the American Thoracic Society, and Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, executive director of the Harris County Texas Public Health and Environmental Services. In addition to the national health perspectives, Dr. Shah pointed to the significant health impacts that environmental issues – exemplified by recent severe weather events – play in local communities in Texas and across the nation.

Hundreds listened in and participated in a robust question and answer period with each speaker. The participants from 46 states included physicians, nurses, respiratory health therapists; state and local health officials; medical researchers; and public health educators. These leaders discussed ways to raise awareness of the human health risks of air pollution and the need to prepare for the health impacts of climate change, as well as the important steps that must be taken to reduce air pollution, including carbon pollution from power plants, to prevent the worst impacts of a changing climate.  

Nearly 150 million people, roughly half of the population in the United States, currently live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution that is linked to serious health impacts, such as asthma attacks, lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes and even death. Children are particularly susceptible to the health effects of air pollution because their lungs are still developing. Air pollution also disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations already burdened with chronic diseases such as asthma, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Scientists warn that the buildup of carbon pollution in the atmosphere leads to warmer temperatures worsening the conditions for ozone formation in some places, and making it harder to achieve healthy air for all.

Sponsors of the “town hall” included: American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, American Thoracic Society, the American Heart Association, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Trust for America's Health, and National Association of County and City Health Officials.

 

***QUOTE SHEET***

(Listed in speaking order)

 

Harold Wimmer, American Lung Association National President & CEO:

“It was great to have so many public health leaders and organizations come together to discuss how to address one of the most pressing clean air issues of our time. Cleaning up carbon pollution from power plants is essential to protecting health. It makes no sense to allow power plants to emit unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air. Our nation’s children, seniors and those suffering with lung or heart disease deserve better.”

Gina McCarthy, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

“We applaud the doctors, nurses and local health officials who are on the front lines sounding the alarm about air pollution and our changing climate,” said McCarthy. “At EPA, we are committed to improving air quality through the Clean Air Act to prevent illnesses such as lung disease and asthma, especially in underserved communities and for some of our most vulnerable populations, including children. Through President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, we will continue this effort to protect the health of our families and future generations by taking responsible steps to cut the carbon pollution that fuels climate change.” 

Dr. Howard Koh, MD, MPH, Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

“When it comes to climate change, we should act now to protect the health and well-being of our children and grandchildren. The challenge of reducing air pollution will get worse if we fail to act. The Department of Health and Human Services and health leaders are ready to address these pressing issues and prepare our public health and health care systems for the impact of climate change.”

Georges C. Benjamin, MD, Executive Director, American Public Health Association:

“The quality of our air is one of the most important social determinants of health. Poor air quality is particularly influenced by carbon pollution, a major contributor to climate change. Climate change is a critical public health issue that is already exposing Americans to conditions and extreme weather events that result in premature illness and death. We must reduce carbon pollution and also provide the needed resources and training to the nation’s federal, state and local health public health system which plays an essential role protecting the public’s health from the impacts of climate change.”

Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Executive Director, Harris County (TX) Public Health and Environmental Services:

“At the end of the day, health happens in the local community. It is important for us to take a moment and reflect on the critical impact the environment – both the built and the social environment – plays in the lives of Americans each and every day. Certainly anything that impacts our environment can have a profound impact on not only our communities but where community members live, learn, work, worship and play. I invite all of us to consider how these – and other important – elements play a role in our ability to live healthier lives by preventing chronic disease, promoting health, and safeguarding our precious communities.”

Thomas Ferkol, MD, president-elect, American Thoracic Society and pediatrician:

“What sometimes gets lost is that air pollution is bad for the developing lungs of an otherwise healthy child too.  Lung growth and lung function are all negatively affected by exposure to air pollution.  This effect even begins before birth. Maternal exposure to ambient pollution during pregnancy is associated with reduced fetal growth and reduced lung function in early infancy.  There is no doubt that the more research scientists do on the health effects of air pollution, the more confident the medical community will be about air pollution’s adverse effect on pediatric health.” 

Dr. Ferkol is also an Alexis Hartmann Professor of Pediatrics, Professor of Cell Biology and Physiology, and Director of the multidisciplinary Division of Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonary Medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine.

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About the American Lung Association
Now in its second century, the American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease. With your generous support, the American Lung Association is “Fighting for Air” through research, education and advocacy. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) or visit www.lung.org.