Published on Thursday, May 2, 2002 by Reuters
Most Americans Breathe Polluted Air: Survey
WASHINGTON - More than half of all Americans breathe polluted air that can damage their health because the government doesn't fully enforce clean air laws, the American Lung Association said on Wednesday.
Standards are in place to cut back pollution, but since they are not being enforced, nearly 400 counties in the United States have smog levels above the legal limits, the group said.
"It is clearly time to get serious about enforcing all of the provisions of the Clean Air Act so that we place Americans' health above business and political interests," said John Kirkwood, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association.
Kirkwood said industry was fighting to roll back important provisions of the Clean Air Act, and ozone standards set in 1997 are still not being enforced.
"More protective ozone standards effectively have been on hold due to challenges by industry, which have kept states relying on weaker standards they have used since 1979," Kirkwood said.
Ozone has been linked with poor air quality, smog, asthma and other respiratory conditions.
A coalition of business groups, led by the American Trucking Association, filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency's 1997 pollution standards saying they were arbitrary and had no scientific basis.
But last month, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the argument, saying the EPA "must err on the side of caution" and set pollution standards at "whatever level it deems necessary and sufficient to protect the public health."
Other legal issues also are still unresolved concerning the pollution standards--which the EPA estimates would prevent 15,000 premature deaths, 350,000 cases of asthma and 1 million cases of decreased lung function in children.
"Somehow, industry believes it needs to continue to pollute," Kirkwood said. "They have fought every step we have taken toward cleaner air for all Americans. Now is the time for EPA to act."
According to the association's report, the 10 most polluted areas were Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange County in southern California; Bakersfield, Fresno, Visalia, Tulare and Porterville, California; Houston, Galveston and Brazoria, Texas; Atlanta; Merced, California; Knoxville, Tennessee; Charlotte, North Carolina, and neighboring Rockville, South Carolina, and Sacramento, California.
The cleanest big cities included Bellingham, Washington; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Lincoln, Nebraska.
Copyright 2002 Reuters Limited