All day today, the EPA is holding a public hearing for comments regarding proposals to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants. Here is what I plan to say during my speaking slot tonight:
Existing power plants create 38 percent of the carbon pollution in the United States, making them the largest single source of carbon in our environment. They also create 32 percent of the total greenhouse gases produced in this nation. I applaud the EPA’s efforts to regulate the toxins, acid gases, heavy metals, and smog-forming and soot-forming emissions from newly built power plants, but there should be standards for existing power plants as well.
I see the results of carbon pollution in my practice, especially during the summer months. I can predict which of my patients will come to see me on hot and humid days. My patients with asthma, who normally can live a healthy life with the help of maintenance inhalers, will come see me on those days. I take care of a 21 year old female, who is normally full of life. She was a cheerleader in high school and now is pursuing her college education. Her smile brightens everyone’s day around her. But on a hot and humid day in my home state of Virginia, I know she will call. She will come in to my office, gasping for air, with wheezing I don’t need a stethoscope to hear. She does not smile on these days. I know she is coming in on the hot and humid days because the soot (a.k.a. fine particulate air pollution) that is produced by coal fired power plants will enter into her airway and cause intense inflammation that even her usual asthma inhalers cannot control. I think the American Lung Association has said it best - the inflammation caused in the small airways from soot is like a sunburn inside your lungs. Now, since I do not have asthma, that sunburn is survivable for me. But for someone with asthma, emphysema or other lung disease, that sunburn can lead to lost days of school, work, doctor’s visits, ER visits, or death.
Conservative estimates show that regulation carbon pollution will lead to 20,000 fewer hospital and ER visits for those with lung disease, 3,000 fewer heart attacks and 30,000 fewer deaths annually. Reducing carbon emissions will cut asthma exacerbations by 1.4 million cases per year, and prevent 2.4 million missed days of work and school. This is a health imperative, and an economic imperative as I likely don’t need to inform you of the costs of health care considering our recent public debates.
As recently as 2 days ago, it was reported in the New York Times that an 8 year old in China was diagnosed with lung cancer. 8 years old. Her physician attributed her lung cancer to air pollution since she lived in close proximity to busy roads. The province where she lives has been shrouded in a haze of smog in the last month. How many more children need to get lung cancer before we act? Lung cancer is the #1 cause of cancer in China, fastest growing in individuals between the ages of 3 up to 50 regardless of their smoking status. This 8 year old girl was not a cigarette smoker, but rather a victim of her environment. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that air pollution is responsible for 40% of premature deaths worldwide. The National Academy of Sciences has estimated that air pollution has shortened the lifespan of Chinese citizens by 5 years.
The Clean Air Act has led to longer life expectancies for Americans since it was passed. All of us have something to gain from reducing carbon emissions:
fewer cases of lung cancer and heart disease for non-smokers
fewer ER visits and hospital stays for those with lung disease, reducing our health care costs
fewer missed days of school and work for those with asthma and other lung diseases, leading to a more productive society
I took the time to drive here tonight from my home about an hour away in Fredericksburg, Virginia to advocate for my patients, to advocate for our strained and expensive health system, and most of all, to advocate for my 3 year old son who I do not want to end up like that poor 8 year old in China.
EPA Public Hearing
November 7, 2013
Christopher Lillis, MD, FACP
Member, Board of Directors, Doctors for America www.drsforamerica.org/
Member, Health and Public Policy Committee, Virginia Chapter American College of Physicians
Columnist, Free Lance Star Newspaper, Fredericksburg, VA