Respiratory Society Believes New EPA Standards Jeopardize the Public?s Health

The president of the American Thoracic Society (ATS) has criticized the proposal put forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce airborne particle pollution as failing to protect the U.S. public's health.

"We are extremely disappointed with the EPA's proposed national standard for particle pollution, particularly for the smallest and most dangerous particles," said Peter D. Wagner, M.D., president of the ATS. The Society represents 13,500 respiratory, critical care and sleep disorder specialists who care for patients with lung diseases.

"The proposed standard," Dr. Wagner noted, "ignores hundreds of scientific studies that conclusively show particle pollution causes lung and heart disease at levels below those that the EPA is recommending. It ignores vulnerable populations, including those with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), who can die from exposure to high levels of particle pollution."

Dr. Wagner added that the EPA proposal even ignored the recommendations of the agency's own staff as well as those of a scientific advisory panel the agency convened. Both groups called for more stringent control of these pollutants. Several different types of particles are responsible for air pollution, including soot, smoke, dust and droplets of chemicals typically produced in manufacturing processes. Boilers, power plants and diesel engines are major sources of particle pollution.

Because they penetrate deeply into the lungs, the smallest particles — those less than 2.5 microns in diameter — are considered the most dangerous.

Since the particulate pollution standards were established in 1997, hundreds of scientific studies have documented serious adverse health effects at levels well below the standards that the EPA has proposed. The adverse health effects include low-birth weight, increased emergency room use, increased heart attack rates and premature death.

"The science is robust, clear and conclusive," said William Rom, M.D., M.P.H., chair of the ATS Environmental Health Policy Committee and director of pulmonary and critical care at the NYU School of Medicine. "Fine particle air pollution causes excess morbidity — in terms of hospital visits, COPD exacerbations, asthma attacks and heart arrhythmias. Fine particle air pollution also causes increased deaths from heart disease, COPD and lung cancer. The rule proposed by the EPA will not protect the American people from the death and disease caused by air pollution."

This article originally appeared in the February 2006 issue of HME Business.

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