Where Do We Go From Here?

Where Do We Go From Here?


Happy Veteran’s Day! We are so grateful for the service of those who keep us safe and secure. Our service men and women make it possible for us to do this important work freely.

On that note, I don’t think I need to tell you that the outcome of the presidential election may have serious consequences for air pollution and climate change policy. Let me be perfectly clear: the sky is not falling. Here’s what I told the Birmingham News:

“The fight for clean air, environmental justice, and climate solutions will go on regardless. I am optimistic that we’ll be able to make progress towards a healthier, more sustainable environment regardless of who is in the White House if people get involved as volunteers, members, and advocates.

“We all need to do a better job of listening to people outside of our bubbles so that we can empathize with them. Most change happens at the state and local level by far, and we need to come together with our neighbors and find lasting solutions to these issues.

“Because the reality is that air pollution and climate change affect all of us, and the only way we’re ever going to figure out the best path forward is if we all work together.”

But let me also be clear that we will fight harder than ever for clean, healthy air for everyone in Alabama. If the new administration tries to rollback key air pollution regulations, we will intervene. If the new administration tries to undo progress on climate change policy, we will stand up to them. If environmental justice and civil rights are pushed aside, we will mobilize. We won’t back down.

Clean air and water are basic human rights. You can’t place a monetary value on a person’s life. That’s why we need your support now more than ever before in our 7-year history. Please join now if you’re not already a member. Pass this message along if you are.

For our future,

Michael Hansen
Executive Director

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EPA Issues Final Cross State Air Pollution Rule

EPA Issues Final Cross State Air Pollution Rule

On September 7, 2016, The EPA finalized Federal Implementation Plans (FIPs) in the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) Update to address air quality impacts of the interstate transport of ozone air pollution in the eastern United States.

CSAPR addresses summertime (May through September) transport of ozone pollution in the Eastern U.S. that crosses state lines. CSAPR aims to cut emissions of nitrogen oxides from power plants in 22 states, including Alabama, that contribute to downwind ozone problems.

The final version will not take effect until May of 2017. However, the updated CSAPR helps downwind states meet the old 75 parts per billion standard instead of the 70 parts per billion standard that became final in October of 2015.

EPA estimates that CSAPR will cut NOx releases next year by about 80,000 tons in the affected states, constituting about a 20 percent drop from last year’s levels. EPA estimates the benefits will amount to about $880 million per year, including prevention of harmful health effects such as:

  • Over 67,000 asthma attacks;
  • Almost 56,000 days of missed work and school;
  • Over 240 hospital and ER visits; and
  • Up to 60 premature deaths.

The budget emissions for Alabama in the Final CSAPR update are:

  • 2015 Emissions: 20,369
  • Proposed 2017 Update CSAPR Update Budget: 9,979
  • Final 2017 CSAPR Update Budget: 13,211

Ozone exposure leads to premature death, coughing, sore throats, damage to the lungs, exacerbation of respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. This dangerous ozone is known as ground-level ozone, which forms when nitrogen oxides react with volatile organic compounds.

Coal-fired power plants, large industrial facilities, vehicles and gasoline vapors all contribute to ozone pollution. Transient weather events and weather conditions play a crucial role in ground-level ozone concentrations. Summers with hotter temperatures and dryer conditions yield higher ozone days than wetter and cooler summers. From May through June of 2014, temperatures in Alabama were below average while precipitation was above average.

The CSAPR update is welcome news from the EPA, where Jefferson County experienced two “orange,” ozone days (unhealthy for sensitive groups) this week. Metro Birmingham so far this year has had a significant number of ozone days:

May 2016 table
June 2016
July 2016 Table

Our mission is to reduce the burden of air pollution on people who live, work, and learn in Alabama through education and advocacy. To support this vital work, become a member today!

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Stronger Air Pollution Standards Could Save Lives

“Meeting tighter pollution standards could prevent 63 avoidable deaths, 117 serious illnesses, and 88,414 adverse impact days in Birmingham alone.”

A report released this week by the American Thoracic Society and the Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University shows the toll air pollution takes on public health. In “Estimated Excess Morbidity and Mortality Caused by Air Pollution above ATS Recommended Standards, 2011-2013,”  researchers calculated the health benefits of stricter air pollution standards.

The interactive Health of the Air website, which complements the report, lets users enter their ZIP code to see the possible effect of reducing ozone and fine particle pollution (PM2.5) in terms of avoidable deaths, serious illnesses, and adverse impact days (e.g., missed days of school and work). Ozone and PM2.5 are both criteria air pollutants.

The standards that ATS recommends are consistent with what Gasp has recommended. They advocate 60 parts per billion (ppb) 8-hour standard for ozone (compared with the EPA’s standard of 70 ppb). They suggest a standard of 11 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) annually for PM2.5, rather than the EPA’s 12 µg/m3 annual standard.

Nationwide design values for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by county

Nationwide design values for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by county. Click to enlarge.

Nationwide design values for ozone (O3) by county

Nationwide design values for ozone (O3) by county. Click to enlarge.

The findings show that meeting tighter pollution standards could prevent 63 avoidable deaths, 117 serious illnesses, and 88,414 adverse impact days in Birmingham alone. Alabama as a whole could potentially avoid 91 deaths, 179 serious illnesses, and 145,126 adverse impact days.

The report finds that across the United States, adhering to these stronger pollution standards could:

  • Save 9,320 lives;
  • Reduce serious health events (morbidities), such as heart attacks, hospital admissions and emergency room visits, by 21,400; and
  • Decrease “adverse impact days,” during which people may not be able to work, go to school or otherwise be physically active because of severe breathing problems, by 19,300,000 days.

Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association, said in a statement:

“This research underscores the need for strong clean air protections, especially for the most vulnerable, including children, older adults and those in low-income communities, where air pollution takes a greater toll on health…Reducing ozone and particle pollution is essential to achieving the promise of the Clean Air Act: healthy air for all to breathe.”

We couldn’t agree more. This important report clearly demonstrates the urgent need to reduce ozone and particle pollution in order to protect those who live, work, and learn in Birmingham and indeed all of Alabama. We have urged and will continue to urge regulators and lawmakers alike to pass more protective air quality standards for all Alabamians. Everyone deserves to breathe clean air.

We’re dedicated to increasing awareness of the health effects of air pollution, increasing scientific literacy, and advocating for policies that will improve air quality for every Alabamian. Consider becoming a member to support this vital work.

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SCOTUS Denies Appeal Over Embattled MATS Rule

SCOTUS Denies Appeal Over Embattled MATS Rule

On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari in Michigan v. EPA. This means that SCOTUS rejected Michigan’s and 20 other states, including Alabama, appeal to block the mercury and air toxics standards (MATS). In denying review, SCOTUS upholds the D.C. Circuit’s decision to not vacate the rule.

Almost a year ago I wrote about the SCOTUS decision that resulted in EPA performing a cost analysis for the MATS rule. Because the rule was not invalidated or stayed, crucial protections for air quality and public health have remained in effect.

Mercury Pollution

Image courtesy Moms Clean Air Force (source: http://www.momscleanairforce.org/how-mercury-poisoning-works)

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that is emitted from coal-fired power plants. It is converted by organisms in nearby water sources like streams and rivers into methylmercury, which is absorbed by fish.

This is what leads to fish advisories like the ones published by the state of Alabama Department of Public Health and our friends at the Coosa Riverkeeper. It has even been linked to lower IQs and can have harmful health effects in children.

Thank you to everyone who told Attorney General Luther Strange to stop wasting taxpayer’s money opposing MATS! Today is a great day for air quality and public health!

Check out this helpful infographic on mercury pollution from Moms Clean Air Force.

MCAF_how_mercury_poisoning_works_Page_1 MCAF_how_mercury_poisoning_works_Page_2

This is Why I Gasp

This is Why I Gasp

by Will King, Gasp Summer Research Fellow

As we head outdoors to enjoy the sunny days and vibrant colors of spring, the quality of the air we breathe may be the last thing on our minds. May is Clean Air Month, a time devoted to bringing increased awareness to eliminating air pollution and cleaning up the invisible substance that gives us life. Spring can also be a time when many allergy, asthma, and respiratory disease sufferers must retreat indoors to prevent exacerbations of their illness.

Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors — including children, seniors, and  pregnant women, groups that are among the most susceptible to the lasting effects of particle pollution, or PM for short. PM is actually a mixture of microscopic solid and liquid particles and it can include substances like heavy metals that are the product of industrial processes (like steelmaking and coke manufacturing), coal-fired power plants, and vehicle emissions.

When we breathe in these tiny foreign particles, several things happen inside our bodies. If the particles are small enough, they may pass directly into the bloodstream along with fresh oxygen. These heavy metal particles like lead, titanium, and chromium are all dangerous in large doses to our body, causing or worsening heart problems, leading to dementia, or causing several types of cancer.

If the PM particles are too big to be carried directly to the bloodstream, they sit in the lungs and get trapped by our bronchioles, which look like branches of a tree. In the short-term they can cause irritation and breathing difficulty, while long-term exposure is associated with lung and cardiovascular diseases.

If you or someone you know has asthma, emphysema, or COPD, inhaling these particles may trigger respiratory distress, which if not treated, can be deadly. Expectant mothers can be especially at risk, and studies have shown that preterm birth is directly linked to air pollution exposure in the second trimester.

I joined Gasp this Spring as a research fellow, which means I get to investigate first-hand how polluted and toxic the central Alabama air we breathe is. I also joined Gasp so I could advocate for you and stress the importance of cleaner air to our elected officials. With our team at Gasp, we are working to put an end to air pollution in Birmingham, and I am so proud to be a part of it.

This is why I Gasp, and so should you! Join Gasp today to help our efforts in putting a stop to air pollution and cleaning up the air we treasure!

State of the Air Report Shows Citizen Advocacy and Common-Sense Policies Work

State of the Air Report Shows Citizen Advocacy and Common-Sense Policies Work

The American Lung Association released its annual “State of the Air” report today and it showed that Birmingham has made significant improvements in air quality over recent years. The Birmingham metro area ranked 53rd most polluted for ozone, 22nd most polluted for year-round particles — the region’s best rankings ever. Ozone and particle pollution are criteria air pollutants regulated by the U.S. EPA.

In light of this report, Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen released this statement:

“Birmingham’s air quality has come a long way since the Clean Air Act was adopted in 1970. The Magic City continues to improve its rankings for both ozone and particle pollution, thanks to a combination of strong citizen advocacy and common-sense policy. Exposure to ozone and particle pollution threatens the health of hundreds of thousands of Alabamians.”

“According to extensive scientific research, exposure to these harmful pollutants is linked to serious health outcomes including premature death, worsened asthma, inflammation of the lungs, heart attacks, strokes, congestive heart failure, low birth weight, and preterm birth. Researchers have even found correlations between hospitalizations related to autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases and long-term exposure to pollution.”

“While I welcome both our improved rankings and our improved overall air quality, I must reiterate that better is not good enough. There is no safe level of exposure to air pollution. Children, teens, seniors, pregnant women, people who work outside, people with lung or heart diseases — hundreds of thousands of Alabamians are vulnerable to the damage air pollution wreaks on our bodies.”

“In particular, low-income families and minorities are disproportionately impacted by air pollution. Gasp receives calls from folks who live near pollution ‘hotspots,’ where soot covers their homes and property, and unpleasant odors fill the air. Reducing exposure to air pollution is not just a matter of sound public policy, but also of environmental and health justice.”

“Finally, it’s important to remember that better is merely a comparison to the past, not a health standard. We’re on the right track: our air quality is objectively better than it was before. But Birmingham still has a ways to go before it can consider ourselves a healthy community for everyone who wishes to live, work and play here.”