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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: HR 806 is harmful to health

Letter to the Editor

It is near the end of July, and we are entering the part of the summer when ozone pollution is highest. Very soon, the U.S. House of Representatives will be voting on H.R. 806, which has the misleading title of “The Ozone Standards Implementation Act.” It would be more accurate if it were called the “Smoggy Skies Act,” because that is the effect it will have. It is a harmful bill that will mean years of delay for the life-saving 2015 ozone standard, and it will permanently weaken one of the nation’s strongest public health laws, the Clean Air Act.

Ground-level ozone pollution, or smog, is not just a summer nuisance. It is dangerous, even life-threatening. It causes asthma attacks, breathing and heart problems, and premature deaths. Many Georgians are especially vulnerable to ozone, such as the 280,000 children and 720,000 adults with asthma.   

HR 806 seeks to delay the 2015 ozone standard for at least eight years. The 2015 ozone standard went through the full rule-making process, with time for public comments, public hearings, and advice from scientific committees. Now Congress wants an eight year delay. Eight years in the life of a child is a long time. Children grow and develop a lot in that time. Children and teenagers have lungs that continue to develop until they reach maturity, and breathing in air pollution can actually put them at greater risk of lung disease as they age. Delaying this rule for eight years will have a disproportionate impact on Georgia’s children from infancy through their teen years.

This bill would affect Georgia’s seniors too. Last month the New England Journal of Medicine published new research showing ozone causes deaths in Medicare recipients at levels far below the current ozone standard. Delaying the new ozone standard will also harm the health of Georgia’s seniors, which could have been prevented.

The bottom line is, HR 806 will be harmful to the health of all Georgians. And, in light of recent evidence, Congress and the EPA should be fully implementing and enforcing the Clean Air Act, not weakening it.

Thanks to the Clean Air Act, we have made great progress in cleaning up ozone and other dangerous pollutants. Still, millions of Americans – four in ten - live where the air is unhealthy to breathe and can threaten their lives. Weakening their protection is simply wrong. We need Representative Graves to save our lungs and note “no” on HR 806, the Smoggy Skies Act.

Gerald Staton, MD, Professor Emeritus of Internal Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta

Yasmin Tyler-Hill, MD, Chair and Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta

Anne Mellinger-Birdsong, MD, Director of Mothers and Others for Clean Air, a program of the American Lung Association of the Southeast, Smyrna