By Henry Ehrlich
A study at George Washington University says the between 9 and 33 million emergency room visits can be attributed to inhalation of ozone and fine particulates—particles smaller than 2.5 microns or less. These things can penetrate to the deepest parts of the airways without being trapped by any of the protections that nature has put in place to protect us. As our friend Elizabeth Mueller of Berkeley Earth has told us that the average level of air pollution in the United States exposes our children to the equivalent of half a cigarette a day of these toxic materials.
According to Science Daily a team headed by Susan C. Anenberg, PhD, MS, Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH):
• Nine to 23 million annual asthma emergency room visits globally (8 to 20 percent of total global asthma ER visits) may be triggered by ozone, a pollutant generated when car, power plant and other types of emissions interact with sunlight.
• Five to 10 million asthma emergency room visits every year (4 to 9 percent of total global asthma ER visits) were linked to fine particulate matter, small particles of pollution that can lodge deep in the lung’s airway tubes.
• About half of the asthma emergency room visits attributed to dirty air were estimated to occur in South and East Asian countries, notably India and China.
• Although the air in the United States is relatively clean compared to South and East Asian countries, ozone and particulate matter were estimated to contribute 8 to 21 percent and 3 to 11 percent of asthma ER visits in the United States, respectively.
While most of the coverage of health care in the upcoming election has centered on pre-existing conditions, that’s hardly the only issue at stake. In addition to an emphasis on promoting the use of coal to generate electricity, restrictions on the release of mercury into the air as a byproduct of burning that coal have been relaxed, and mandates to improve mileage standards for motor vehicles have been capped, ensuring that more pollutants will be released into the air. This should alarm families coping with asthma and other respiratory conditions.
Graphics by EPA.gov and Utah.gov