New air standards issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in December are expected to have far-reaching effects on both pollution and public health. The new standards fall under the Clean Air Act’s power to control pollutants from coal and oil-fired power plants, and slashes allowable emissions of all hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) including metals like mercury and arsenic, acid gases, and particulate matter. Power plants have 3 years to conform to the new requirements and once fully in effect, the EPA estimates that the standards will reduce mercury emissions alone by as much as 90%.
The toxic pollutants covered under these standards have been linked to cancer, heart disease, lung disease and premature death and the reductions are expected to make a big impact on illness and death. The EPA estimates that the new standards will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, 2,800 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 130,000 asthma attacks—each year.
A lot of attention has been paid recently to the link between air pollution and heart disease. The EPA Aging Initiative has hosted a number of meetings discussing this link and is supporting the Green Heart Campaign which is intended to complement the Million Hearts Campaign by increasing awareness of the link and thereby reducing morbidity and mortality related to air pollution.
The Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE)—an international partnership committed to strengthening the scientific and public dialogue on environmental factors linked to disease—has also done a lot of work in this area, including releasing an important report on Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging. The Alliance will be co-sponsoring a conference hosted by CHE in June on promoting a healthy environment.