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State and local asthma coalitions endorse new EPA standards for carbon emissions

October 22, 2014

smoke-stack Medical providers have made the link between carbon emissions and human health. Both the Virginia Asthma Coalition (VAC) and the Greater Roanoke Valley Asthma and Air Quality Coalition have sent comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supporting proposed new limits on carbon emissions. Coal-fired power plants would be impacted by the new rules. In addition to carbon dioxide linked to climate change, the plants emit precursors to both ozone and soot (particle pollution), and both have major impacts on human health.

Here is the text of comments from the two coalitons:

Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602
Comments by the Virginia Asthma Coalition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The Virginia Asthma Coalition supports health-based limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. Reducing carbon emissions will reduce the impact of climate change on people with asthma. Also, the actions each state will take to reduce carbon emissions will have the additional benefit of reducing emissions of other life-threatening air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and mercury.

Climate change is a serious threat to human health, and particularly to the health of people with asthma. The changing climate will alter the distribution of pollutants, enhance conditions for the formation of ozone, and increase emissions from fires, dust and vegetation, such as pollen. All of these changes can trigger asthma attacks.

Ozone can irritate and inflame the respiratory system and lead to asthma attacks and hospitalizations for people with asthma, as well as shortness of breath, chest pain, inflammation of the lung lining, wheezing, coughing, and even premature death for the public at large. Because ozone forms when other pollutants react in the presence of sunlight, it most often reaches dangerous levels on hot days. Current estimates predict warmer temperatures caused by climate change will lead to significantly higher ozone levels than would otherwise be the case by 2050.

Particle pollution, often called soot, comes from smokestacks, tailpipes, and fires. It can exacerbate asthma, particularly in children, and is linked to heart attacks, strokes, and even cancer in the public at large. Climate change is predicted to lead to increased drought conditions and increased wildfires.

Many people with asthma also suffer from allergies, and those allergies often trigger asthma attacks. Excess carbon in the atmosphere can contribute to plant growth that results in more allergens, and warmer weather caused by climate change can shift plants’ growing seasons. Both of these factors are predicted to lead to longer, stronger pollen seasons, causing particular problems for people with both allergies and asthma.

These are just a few of the many and far-reaching impacts that climate change will continue to have on the health of people with asthma, including 700,000 Virginians. The Virginia Asthma Coalition strongly supports reductions of carbon pollution from existing power plants. We also applaud the reductions in other pollutants that are projected to occur alongside reductions in carbon.

We also support the flexible approach EPA has outlined for states to reduce carbon pollution from power plants within their borders. However, we request that EPA revise its plan to exclude biomass combustion as an acceptable alternative energy source. Increasing our nation’s generation of electricity from biomass would be a step backward for public health because of the increase we would see in emissions of particulates and smog-forming pollutants.

Finally, we ask that EPA finalize these lifesaving protections into law without delay.

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