Burr & Forman

11.2.2017   |   Air Pollution, Blog Articles, Environmental Law Matters

Reminder of the Impacts of Air Pollution on Public Health

The issue of climate change has become the focus of air emission regulations and prompted deep division in the process.  The last Presidential election brought the issue to the fore in the sense that those who are now involved with developing environmental policy are skeptical of human impacts on climate, and most official discussion of the issue is being eliminated.  (EPA Scientists Prevented from Discussing Climate Change: NYT   & CNN).  Nonetheless, investigations of the impacts of air pollution continue and results are being published on an ongoing basis.  Notably, the British medical journal The Lancet has assembled a Commission on Pollution and Health, which periodically produces relevant studies on various aspects of the effects of various pollutants.  (See generally: The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, and as to air pollution specifically: Implications for the Science of Air Pollution and Health).

Thus, while the effects of air emissions on climate remain in dispute among government officials, that dispute shouldn’t obscure our concern about the impacts of air emissions on public health.  The ongoing Lancet studies tend to show the problems associated with air pollution as it affects public health on a global scale.  And despite the fact that the regulation of air pollutants in the United States has been more extensive than in most places in the world, EPA recently reported that a significant number of premature deaths continue to occur in the U.S. due to the effects of air pollution. (Time).  In 2013, an MIT study estimated this number at over 20,000 annually.  (MIT.edu).  While these deaths are not necessarily the direct result of air pollution conditions, they are hastened by those conditions and are considered premature deaths.

Whether we can significantly impact changes in climate conditions through cooperation with other nations remains an open question.  On the other hand, the human health effects of air pollution itself are widely acknowledged and there is little, if any, debate about the human health benefits of actually controlling such pollutants.  At least to that extent, debates over whether climate change is occurring as a result of human action ought not, either intentionally or inadvertently, serve as a basis for relaxing or limiting regulations and programs that benefit public health.

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