As the summer smog season draws to a close, it's a good time to take stock of our efforts to combat a silent killer -- the very air we breathe. Preliminary reports show that clean-air health standards have been violated literally hundreds of times this summer in dozens of states.
The human toll is enormous. Premature death. Asthma attacks. Increased hospital emergency room visits. For the frail elderly, there are warnings to remain indoors. For many others, breathing problems and a general feeling of malaise.
The pollution is unacceptable. That's why federal health experts set new health standards for smog and soot earlier this summer. Clearly, both standards needed to be modernized. The soot standard was last revised in 1987 and the smog standard was last changed in 1979.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the new standards will prevent about 15,000 premature deaths annually and significantly reduce chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.
These standards are vitally important. They let the public know when contaminants in the air could harm their health.
The EPA has proposed a sensible plan for putting the new standards into effect, allowing time for achievement of pollution reductions in a cost-effective way. The agency has also noted that the centerpiece of the cleanup effort will be old, dirty power plants. Technology clearly is available to bring these outmoded plants up to code at a reasonable cost.
As might be expected, special interests are fighting the new standards. For more than a year, big polluting industries -- oil, gas, chemical, auto, and electric power companies -- have waged a campaign against the new health standards. Lobbyists are now pressing Congress to delay and weaken the standards.
It's important that our elected officials stand up in support of clean air.
Stanton H. Hudson Jr.
Vice President, American Lung
Association of New York State