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Clean Air Act standards contribute to ‘significant’ reduction in air pollution, new study finds | earth beat

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A man stops to take a photo of the Utah State Capitol and smog-covered buildings in downtown Salt Lake City on Dec. 12, 2017. (CNS/Reuters/George Frey)

It’s not hard for Don Brown to detect when the air quality is dropping in Columbus, Ohio.

His body has plenty of ways to tell him.

The 70-year-old pensioner suffers from asthma, COPD and sinus problems. High levels of dust and pollutants in the air, as well as fumes from diesel trucks traveling on nearby Highway 71 in his southern Columbus neighborhood, make it hard to breathe. So are the high levels of pollen and mold and the heavy, sweltering humidity that comes with Ohio summers.

“When they issue an air quality alert, I close the hatch,” Brown said.

A former sheet metal mechanic and plumber and current member of the Genesee Avenue Church of Christ, Brown has struggled with asthma his entire life. But it was more pronounced during his days in Columbus. He grew up in the capital of Ohio and, after serving in the military, moved to Southern California in the early 1970s, where he found himself breathing much easier because he lived near the beach. When he returned to Columbus in 1999 to help his mother, his asthma also returned.

“I thought I had passed it,” he told EarthBeat. Shortly after returning to the area, located in one of the country’s two “asthma belts”, he was in hospital for treatment. Now he uses three inhalers a day.

Brown’s story was one of hundreds describing environmental challenges in Columbus that was shared in listening sessions held over the past year by BREAD, or Building Responsibility Equality and Dignity, a faith-based coalition community organization of 44 religious congregations.

Each year, BREAD takes the lead of its members on issues facing their community, whether it’s elder care, gun violence or affordable housing. In November, they voted to focus on environmental justice, and with it, air pollution. One solution they support is the protection and expansion of the metropolitan area’s tree canopy.

Smoke from American Electric Power's coal-fired Mountaineer Generating Station along the banks of the Ohio River in New Haven, West Virginia is seen in this file photo.  (CNS/Jim West)

Smoke from American Electric Power’s coal-fired Mountaineer Generating Station along the banks of the Ohio River in New Haven, West Virginia is seen in this file photo. (CNS/Jim West)

BREAD is also a partner organization of the DART Center which benefits from a $500,000 grant to combat the impacts of climate change awarded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development of the United States Episcopal Conference.

Cities like Columbus have been looking for solutions to clear the air above their horizons. One of the greatest tools available to cities was the Clean Air Act, the first federal air pollution law passed in 1970. More than 50 years later, regulations continue to have an impact, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at Georgetown University. .

The study, published in May by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, looked at the latest air quality standards under the Clean Air Act which came into force in 2005 These standards sought to regulate levels of fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5 – essentially small dust particles in the air often generated by burning fossil fuels, whether gasoline in vehicles or coal-fired power plants. The particles are small enough to penetrate deep into a person’s lungs and sometimes into the bloodstream, causing adverse health effects.

The Georgetown study found that enforcement of PM 2.5 standards by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contributed to a 3% reduction in fine particulate matter concentrations nationwide in the first five years of the standard. While that percentage may seem small, such a change in a short time is “significant and substantial,” said lead researcher Lutz Sager, assistant professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy in Georgetown.

“These latest rules for fine particulates, which really are among the most harmful types of pollution, seem to have, appear to bite, and are in fact effective in measurably improving air quality,” he said. at EarthBeat.

Sager warned that not all air quality improvements should be attributed to Clean Air Act standards alone, and that other factors such as improvements in industrial efficiency play a role and that areas the most polluted tend to show improvements over time, even in the absence of regulation.

The study also showed promising results in terms of people exposed to air pollution.

“It has been shown time and time again that there are quite stark disparities in the different levels of air quality or air pollution faced by different parts of the country and different segments of the population,” said Wise.

Often, low-income communities and areas with high concentrations of black, Latino and Asian residents have been exposed to the highest levels of pollution. A recent study, as reported by The New York Times, found that historically bounded communities — those considered risky investments for developers under 1930s federal policy guidelines — still face levels of pollution. much higher and are more likely to be located near industrial complexes. and highways.

The Georgetown study found positive, albeit incremental, improvements over the Clean Air Act of 2005 standards to help close the pollution disparity gap between black Americans and white Americans, narrowing nearly 70% from 2001-2003 to 2011-2013, with research attributing a substantial part to standards. Progress was also seen in the pollution gap between rural and urban areas, and the study also showed that improving air quality tends to have a positive effect on home values, home sales prices increase by 1% with every 1% reduction in fine particulate matter concentrations.

“I think it’s encouraging to see that these PM 2.5 rules, the latest, seem to be having at least a positive impact,” Sager said.

A cloudy fall day in the German village of Columbus, Ohio (Unsplash/Shep McAllister)

A cloudy fall day in the German village of Columbus, Ohio (Unsplash/Shep McAllister)

Such findings are positive advances in communities like Columbus, which was one of the areas with high PM 2.5 levels prior to the 2005 Clean Air Act standards. BREAD engaged local civic leaders in ways to further improve air quality and address environmental justice issues in the city.

One strategy focuses on trees. Having trees in a neighborhood helps in many ways, including reducing the impact of oppressive heat and helping to mitigate flooding. Trees also improve air quality by absorbing pollutants from the air and reducing temperatures, and with them, levels of emissions from often polluting energy sources.

In addition to encouraging city officials to expand tree cover in underprivileged communities, BREAD urged them to also pass regulations to protect existing trees on private property, which make up about 70% of Columbus’s trees. , against developer culling of one of America’s fastest growing metropolitan areas.

The initiative is good news for Brown, who says there is limited tree cover and little green space in his low-income neighborhood. And when trees are felled, new ones are rarely planted.

He hopes the city’s urban forestry master plan will help neighborhoods like his with low forest cover.

“They help absorb water from the ground, they give off a bit more shade,” Brown said. And above all, “they give off more oxygen”.

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