OPINION: EPA’s Clean Power Plan will protect the health of millions

Special to The TelegraphJuly 6, 2014 

The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in his statement of support for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan was speaking from the minds of most pediatricians when he stated “The regulation released today by the EPA is a welcome and needed step to help make the air we breathe safer and cleaner for children.”

EPA’s historical carbon pollution reduction plan will protect the health of millions of Americans including Georgia’s most vulnerable: children, communities of color, older adults and those suffering from respiratory diseases. The public health effects from a changing climate is one of the most serious and challenging issues of our time. Coal-fired power plants, the largest single source of carbon emissions, set the stage for warmer temperatures which can lead to ozone formation, a well-known trigger for asthma attacks and worsening respiratory diseases.

As we see hot weather approaching with temperatures of 80 and above degrees, it’s clear that we’re entering a season that, for pediatricians and family doctors, means seeing an increased number of heat-related visits and more children suffering from heat and/or ozone induced asthma attacks.

In Georgia, nearly 1 in 10 children has asthma and African American children are twice as likely as white children to have asthma.

Each day nine Americans die from asthma and African Americans are three times more likely to die from the disease.

Unregulated carbon pollution hurts us all because it contributes to global climate disruption, leading to rising temperatures, more air pollution, more frequent extreme weather events like we’ve seen here at home in the Southeast, and contributing to the spread of certain diseases. Children are especially vulnerable because their lungs are developing and growing, they breathe at a higher rate than adults, and they spend more time outdoors engaging in vigorous physical activity.

We are likely to see more pollen and mold affecting children with allergies. Moreover, the newly released National Climate Assessment report asserts that ground-level ozone is projected to increase in the Southeast, leading to increases in respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, including emphysema and asthma.

As pediatricians, we keep children healthy and help them feel better when they’re sick, and we help protect the health of our community. This means we have a responsibility to take whatever actions we can to help our patients.

EPA’s plan to cap carbon pollution from power plants is the fastest way to make our air cleaner and protect our children’s health. A recent study from Syracuse and Harvard universities found that the co-benefits of reducing carbon emissions from existing power plants can reduce other recognized air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, ozone and fine particulate matter pollution -- pollutants that can cause asthma attacks, heart attacks, cancer, birth defects and premature death.

In fact, EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards would prevent up to 4,000 premature deaths and 100,000 asthma attacks in the first year they are in place, and prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks in 2030.

The impact of climate change from carbon pollution isn’t a political issue, it’s a scientific fact.

When medical science tells us, as it does today, that the health of our communities is being impacted by something that we have the power to change, we have a moral obligation to protect our children and future generations from the health impacts of climate change.

It is time we put politics aside and take the necessary actions to prevent disease and preserve the health of our fellow citizens.

Dr. Jalal Zuberi, MD, DCH and FAAD, is an associate professor, Department of Pediatrics at Morehouse School of Medicine.

Anne Mellinger-Birdsong is an epidemiologist and retired board certified pediatrician.

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