Let’s review 2 recent medical studies that can offer guidance on an important public policy issue. The Lancet, a respected international medical journal, reported that worldwide >4 million children develop asthma annually from exposure to air pollution. This represents 13% of new asthma diagnoses across the globe; the US was 3rd WORST in air quality (traffic fumes) caused asthma in this study. Specifically nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentration was the main culprit, but the study notes a strong correlation between NO2 and CO2 levels.
The occurrence, needless to say, was greater in urban compared to more rural areas, with the worst US cities being NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Milwaukee. Quoting the last sentence of the article–“Traffic emissions should be a target for exposure mitigations strategies.”
The second study, in the journal Environmental Research and conducted by the University of California, Merced and the National Institute of Health, analyzed data that calculated proximity to major roads and then compared parents’ reports of child development over their first 3 years. The investigators reported that being near major roads increased exposure to particulate matter (“PM2.5”) and ozone, both prenatally and for those young children, was associated with developmental delay and impaired communication skills; the incidence of these problems may double as a result of exposure to environmental hazards, the study suggests. Again, the concluding sentence–“efforts to minimize air pollution exposure during critical development windows may be warranted.”
Consider this information in light of the present Administration’s proposal to freeze fuel emission standards in the year 2021 (as opposed to the present schedule to mandate greater efficiency standards through 2035). Their stated reason is that increasing those standards, as has been the policy for the past decade, compromises safety and increases fatalities. However, these claims are contradicted by some of the government’s own data, by nonpartisan groups like Securing America’s Future Energy, industry groups like the Aluminum Association Transportation Group (which, please note, DOES have a vested interest in the subject) and even by officials presently serving in the government themselves. Many automakers oppose the idea as inefficient for them and expensive for consumers
Now, we hear arguments on either side of the climate change debate. One can choose to accept that pollution causes climate change or not (and the comprehensive scientific conclusion is that it DOES). As some skeptics like to say, “I am not a scientist”, therefore I cannot speak with any special authority about climate data. But I am a pediatrician for 34 years, so I believe I am well qualified to address the pediatric medical literature. The above is only some of the information in my field telling us that pollution is bad for the wellbeing of the next generation, whatever you accept or reject about its effect on climate. I say we ignore this at our children’s and grandchildren’s peril.
Please keep the above in mind as the debate–and political/election contests that are impacted by it–come before you this year, next year, and beyond.
Happy Easter and Passover to all and thanks for following.