Preserving the Environment

Despite Reports About Increasing Environmental Hazards, the Air in Our Cities is Getting Much Safer to Breathe

August 26, 2014
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Despite Reports About Increasing Environmental Hazards, the Air in Our Cities is Getting Much Safer to Breathe
Progress has been made to reduce harmful pollutants in cities from 1990. Mario Tama/Getty Images
This latest news from the EPA is like a breath of fresh air.

For all the hot air we often hear from politicians and pundits alike, the quality of the air we breathe in this country has actually gotten a lot better in the last two decades.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released their Second Integrated Urban Air Toxics Report to Congress, which surprisingly, shows that a lot of progress has been made to reduce harmful pollutants in cities due to the Clean Air Act updates from 1990, reports Think Progress.

Some highlights in the report include:

– A 66 percent reduction in benzene

– A nearly 60 percent reduction in mercury from man-made sources like coal-fired power plants

– An 84 percent decrease of lead in outdoor air, which slows brain development in children

– The removal of an estimated 1.5 million tons per year of air toxics like arsenic, benzene, lead and nickel from stationary sources

– Another 1.5 million tons per year (about 50 percent) of air toxics from mobile sources. This is significant because air toxics (also referred to as hazardous air pollutants or HAPs) are known or suspected of causing cancer and can damage the immune, respiratory, neurological, reproductive and developmental systems

– Approximately 3 million tons per year of criteria pollutants, like particulate matter and sulfur dioxide, have been reduced as co-benefits of air toxics reductions

MORE: Do Ants Hold the Key to Reducing Pollution?

And if you think the EPA is just tooting it’s own horn, NASA also studied satellite images from 2005 to present day and saw physical proof that air pollution is decreasing in major urban areas.

Not only is cleaner air good news for our health, it’s good for the economy, too. CNN reports that better air quality prevented 160,000 deaths in 2010, 1.7 million asthma attacks and cut down hospital admissions and emergency room visits by 86,000. By 2020, the dollar savings in cleaner air will amount to $2 trillion annually in alleviated health risks.

In a statement, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy emphasizes that strict environmental regulations do not hinder this country’s economic growth: “This report gives everyone fighting for clean air a lot to be proud of because for more than 40 years we have been protecting Americans — preventing illness and improving our quality of life by cutting air pollution — all while the economy has more than tripled.”

“But we know our work is not done yet,” McCarthy notes. “At the core of EPA’s mission is the pursuit of environmental justice — striving for clean air, water and healthy land for every American; and we are committed to reducing remaining pollution, especially in low-income neighborhoods.”

So yes, while this is a small victory for all of our lungs, we shouldn’t breathe easy just yet.

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