Air Pollution

Driving to show we care

By Gina Snyder

Last summer, I had the opportunity to drive an extended range electric car. This is a vehicle that drives only on the battery until all the charge has been used up, then it uses a gasoline engine and hybrid technology for excellent mileage. But the really interesting thing about this car was the extensive feedback on my driving “performance.”

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A spinning green globe on the dashboard let me know when I began to accelerate out of the efficient range. Not only that, but on this 90-degree day, when I used air conditioning, the climate conditioning display also showed how much power was going to keep the cabin space cool. It turned out that using the eco-air conditioning used 21 percent of the engine’s power on cooling the cabin, but pushing the ‘comfort’ button drove it all the way up to 35 percent of the engine’s power! That just goes to show how much energy it takes to run air conditioning.

I don’t continuously focus on doing everything possible to conserve fuel when I drive, but I do like to drive with fuel efficiency in mind. The best tip I’ve ever found was to drive a car like you would ride a bike. It helps if you think about spending energy as wisely in your car as you do when you ride.

Here are some examples:

  • Ensure your tires are properly inflated and vehicle is in good mechanical condition – this reduces rolling and mechanical resistance. Proper tire pressure is safer, extends tire life, and can provide up to 3 percent benefit per tankful of fuel.
  • Smart braking means that you coast to stops. Go easy on the gas pedal just like you don’t pedal madly towards stop signs and then jam on the binders on your bike.
  • “Driving with load” on hills saves energy. You don’t usually power up hills trying to maintain your previous cruising speed on your bike, do you?
  • Reduce speed. It’s easier for cyclists, who are highly attuned to the relationship between aerodynamic drag and the energy consumed to travel at high speed.
  • Don’t idle your car unnecessarily. You don’t sit and spin your bike pedals while waiting for someone, nor do you ‘warm up your bike’ in the driveway, do you?

Being attuned to your performance as an efficiency-conscious driver will result in a style that mirrors the smooth and steady progress you make on a bicycle. We can all be smooth operators this summer. Go easy on the brake and gas pedals when you approach traffic lights and stop signs. Stopping and accelerating gradually not only gives you a smoother ride, it saves gas—and that’s good for the air and good for you!

Learn more from EPA on Green Vehicles: https://www3.epa.gov/greenvehicles/

Other green driving tips: https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/Downloads/wycd/wycd-road.pdf

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About the author:  Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental Stewardship, Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and serves on her town’s climate committee

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Cleaner Air Means Healthier Hearts

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

February is Healthy Heart Month. There’s no better time than now to learn how to protect your heart.

Air pollution can affect heart health, and even trigger heart attacks and strokes. That’s important information for the one in three Americans who have heart disease, and for the people who love them.

And it’s why EPA is working with other government agencies, and with private and nonprofit health organizations, on the Million Hearts® national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. This month, and every month, we want to make sure people understand how heart disease is linked to air pollution – and what people can do to protect themselves.

Scientific studies, including research by EPA scientists, shows that there’s not just an association between air pollution and heart disease, but that this association can have life-threatening consequences.

In a recent study in Environmental Research, EPA scientists looked at data from NASA satellites and EPA ground-based air monitors, and confirmed that heart disease and heart attacks are more likely for individuals who live in places with higher air pollution.  The study found that exposure to even small additional amounts of fine particle pollution averaged over a year could increase a person’s odds of a heart attack by up to 14 percent.

So, what can you do to help keep your heart healthy?

  • You can start by making sure to eat nutritious meals and exercise (just make sure to check with your health care provider first).
  • Check the Air Quality Index every day to learn about your local air quality and how can reduce your exposure to air pollution.
  • And we can all do our part to make choices that are better for the environment and our health – like taking public transit more often and driving cleaner vehicles.

This February, and every month, remember that cleaner air means healthier hearts.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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45 Years of Fulfilling our Mission

By Gina McCarthy

Just two weeks after the EPA was established in 1970, our first-ever Administrator, Bill Ruckelshaus, issued a statement calling the birth of our agency the start of America’s “reclaiming the purity of its air, its water, and its living environment.”

Just last week, 45 years later – nearly to the day – President Obama honored Ruckelshaus with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his tireless work to get our agency up and running, protect public health, and combat global challenges like climate change.

In bestowing the award, President Obama said, “Bill set a powerful precedent that protecting our environment is something we must come together and do as a country.”

Each day, when I come to work and walk the halls at EPA, I feel proud that our agency is continuing to build on Bill’s legacy.

Later this week, I will join the US delegation to the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, where our agency will play a central role in negotiations that could mark a historic turning point to protect our planet for generations to come. I’m confident that the US can get the job done.

Ruckelshaus’ well-deserved honor is a reminder of the amazing progress we’ve made as an agency in just four and a half decades. We have evolved into a world-class model of environmental protection under the law.

We’ve come so far together. Fifty years ago, we pumped toxic leaded-gas into our cars; people smoked on airplanes; and residents of cities like Los Angeles could barely see each other across the street.

Today, EPA’s work has changed all of that – and more. We’ve cut air pollution by 70 percent; we’ve phased out leaded-gasoline; we’ve removed the acid from rain, we’ve helped clear the air of second-hand smoke; and we’ve cleaned up beaches and waterways, all while our economy has tripled.

Throughout it all, EPA has embodied the concept of participatory government. We’ve engaged states, communities, industry partners, and the public. We’ve listened to the needs of people on the ground, and we’ve worked transparently, hand in hand with citizens and families to protect their health, their communities, and their ability to earn a decent living. That’s something to be proud of.

At every step of the way, we’ve followed the science and the law to tackle immensely difficult challenges. And that work is continuing every day.

I thank and congratulate everyone who has played a part in building EPA’s legacy.

Here’s to working together to fulfill our mission for another 45 years!

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Refining Environmental Justice

By Matt Tejada

Before joining EPA, I spent more than five years in Houston working to protect the health of the many low-income and minority communities along the Texas Gulf Coast who share their neighborhoods with oil refineries. I cannot think of a single fenceline community from my work that does not have numerous health and environmental challenges facing local residents. And while toxic emissions from refineries are not responsible for all of those challenges, the risk from refinery pollution is an ever-present part of living in these places.

A new rule we’re releasing today helps reduce these dangerous emissions – a major victory for environmental justice but more importantly for the communities living and working along the fencelines of refineries.

The rule will reduce visible smoking flare emissions and accidental releases. For the first time in a nationwide rule, it will provide important emissions information to the public and neighboring communities by requiring refineries to actually monitor emissions at key sources within their facilities and around their fencelines. The rule also increases controls for storage tanks and cokers, parts of refineries that many folks rarely think about because they have just become part of their neighborhood background. The pollution reduced from these two types of units is very significant.

The final “Refinery Rule” – as many EJ stakeholders likely know it by – will reduce 5,200 tons per year of toxic air pollutants, along with 50,000 tons per year of volatile organic compounds. That is thousands of tons of pollution that will not be coming out of our nation’s refineries every single year. The emission reductions from this final rule will lower the cancer risk from refineries for 1.4 million people. That’s not just good for the communities that live in and around refineries — it’s outstanding. And, not just for the communities, but for the folks who work inside the refineries, as well as stakeholders in the broader community whose regional air quality would otherwise be impacted by some of these pollutants.

This rule means a lot to me personally after all the time I spent in those communities in my home state of Texas. It’s one of the biggest steps we’ve taken to protect environmental justice communities under Administrator McCarthy’s leadership. But it’s not the only one – we’ve also worked to create a Clean Power Plan that protects the needs of the most vulnerable Americans, changed the way we prioritize environmental justice in our rulemaking, created EJSCREEN to help communities learn about their environmental risks, and – just this week – released new Worker Protection Standards that keep farmworkers and their families safer from over-exposure to pesticides.

As someone who has worked on the community side of these issues, I know the importance of listening to stakeholders and communities who provide valuable input as we develop rules. The final rule incorporates community feedback and has been strengthened from proposal stage to final, accounting for important concerns expressed by the very people living on the fenceline who we are trying to protect.

Our work to increase that protection is far from done, but this final Refinery Rule is a major step forward in controlling pollution from refineries to protect the health and well-being of those who live near them and it leaves the door open to continue to introduce technology as it advances and offers even greater protection. Because here at EPA we don’t see environmental justice as something to be achieved in one action – but as something we are committed to continually advancing in everything we do.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Home Energy Audits are Easy and Worth Your Time

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator

I had a great visit recently with a couple of eager young energy consultants sent by my electric utility, and I’m feeling rather good about the results. I learned that all in all, my 2,500-square-foot colonial home is reasonably energy efficient. And I learned that I can invest just $1,000 to make improvements that will more than pay me back in three years.

Since EPA New England is encouraging residents across the region to take advantage of home energy audits, I asked my utility, National Grid, to audit my house. I wanted to find out first-hand what happens in these audits, which, by the way, are often offered for free.

Even though I am the regional administrator at EPA’s New England office, my experience was pretty much what any homeowner could expect – if you ignore the two suited, but very polite executives that trailed me and the consulting engineers eagerly checking on everything from my boiler, insulation and wiring to my refrigerators, stoves and windows.

The entire visit was actually quite fun, but then, I love this kind of stuff. And in just two to three hours I found out that the areas where I thought I was doing well with energy efficiency were not always that great. I learned that my 93-year-old four-bedroom colonial could use a bit more insulation, and that it hosts an attic fan that turns on when it shouldn’t. I was also surprised to hear that the high-priced, energy-efficient air conditioner I so proudly purchased was installed wrong. The installers hadn’t connected the duct work correctly, so I’ve been cooling a 100-degree attic, in addition to our living space.

If I correct these issues, about 60 percent of the $2,500 cost of improvements will be paid for by tax credits and government subsidies, leaving me with just a $1,000 bill. Oh and, they also gave us 10 free LED light bulbs to replace less efficient ones.

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Subsidies and programs already in place in New England put us ahead of the curve of national policy. The US Clean Power Plan, which EPA expects to finalize this summer, will require all states to draft a plan to help cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. EPA suggests states look at using less fossil fuel, using fossil fuel more efficiently, cutting back on demand and increasing the use of low emission, no–emission or renewable resources. Every state can tailor its own best plan based on their needs.

Each state has its own incentives, and many provide free audits. EPA also offers the ENERGY STAR Home Advisor, an online tool to help consumers save money and improve their homes’ energy efficiency through recommended home-improvement projects. Simple actions, like upgrading a bathroom showerhead, can save thousands of gallons of water a year, which translate to lower water and energy bills.

I asked for a utility audit because I wanted to take part in a program EPA encourages. I wanted to see what is was like to have a home energy audit. It was so satisfying I felt compelled to wander over to neighbors, utility folks trailing behind me, and share with them the lessons I had learned from my audit. I know the improvements I make may only be a tiny difference in the nation’s emissions, but if each of us makes a few recommended changes, it quickly adds up to a big deal.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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What Does Air Quality Mean for Your Exercise Routine?

By Alison Davis

We read or hear about it every day: exercise plays a critical role in keeping us healthy. So, what do you do when you want to exercise outside, but the air quality forecast is Code Orange – or higher? Does that mean you shouldn’t exert yourself outdoors?

Unless you’re looking for a reason to head for the couch, there’s good news. On most days, you can exercise outside – even if air quality isn’t the best. By using the Air Quality Index (AQI) to make simple changes to your workout plan, you can still get physical activity outdoors, while reducing the amount of pollution you take into your lungs.

If checking the AQI isn’t part of your daily routine, this is the perfect time to start. Air Quality Awareness Week is April 27 through May 1.

Join us at 1 p.m. EDT Thursday, April 30 for a Twitter chat about air quality and physical activity. EPA’s experts will be joined by experts from CDC, the National Weather Service and the National Park Service to answer your questions about how using the AQI can help you get the exercise you need to stay healthy when air quality is poor. Join the conversation: follow the #AirQualityChat hashtag @EPAlive, @CDCenvironment, @NWS, and @NPSair. If you don’t have a Twitter account, you can post your questions in the comments below and follow the #AirQualityChat hashtag during the chat. We look forward to talking with you!

About the author: Alison Davis is a Sr. Advisor for Public Affairs in EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning & Standards.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Promoting Healthy Lifestyles and Hearts – Don’t Forget About Air Pollution

Healthy Heart graphic identifier

By Wayne E. Cascio, MD

Each February during American Heart Month our attention is once again drawn to the importance of promoting heart health. Heart attacks and strokes are on the decline thanks to the dedicated efforts of many health care professionals and organizations and scientists on the frontlines of cardiovascular research and health education. Yet, while progress is being made, cardiovascular diseases still account for the largest number of deaths each year in the US (one death every 40 seconds) and impose an enormous emotional, physical and economic burden on individuals, families and our communities. This underscores the importance of continued vigilance in the fight against heart disease and stroke.

Most Americans by now can recite the major heart healthy lifestyle factors: regular physical activity, a healthy diet and weight, controlling blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose, and no smoking. Yet, too few know that exposure to air pollution is a risk factor for heart disease, even though scientific evidence is clear that air pollution contributes to heart disease.

Just last December cardiologists and health scientists on behalf of the European Society of Cardiology published a paper in the European Heart Journal adding their voices to a growing chorus of environmental health scientists and physicians calling for increased public awareness of the link between air pollution and cardiovascular disease.

EPA’s Healthy Heart initiative was created in 2013 to increase environmental health literacy among health care providers, patients with heart disease who are at highest risk from the ill effects of air pollution, and the general public. Heart patients and caregivers can access information about protecting their heart from air pollution on the Healthy Heart web page. The site includes links to local air quality forecasts on the airnow.gov web page.

Individuals are empowered to take action to protect their hearts from air pollution. They can adjust their daily activities to keep air pollution exposure to a minimum when outdoor levels are high. They can avoid exercise near a busy road and reduce activity level on high pollution days (for example, go for a walk instead of a jog.) Adding these steps to other healthy lifestyle activities can protect hearts and save lives.

And while much scientific progress has been made to uncover the heart-air pollution link, many questions remain that require more science. EPA and other scientists across our country and around the world are hard at work to learn more about why some people are so susceptible to polluted air and what sources may be contributing the most to heart attacks and strokes, among other questions. One such effort is the CATHGEN Air Pollution Study, being conducted by EPA in collaboration with the Duke University School of Medicine. This multi-year study and others under way are anticipated to fill big gaps in current scientific knowledge on the health impacts of air pollution.

About the Author: Cardiologist Wayne E. Cascio, MD is the Director of EPA’s Environmental Public Health Division, a Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Fellow of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. Dr. Cascio’s research explores the effects of air pollution on the heart and blood vessels.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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American Ingenuity on Display at Next Gen Tech Demo Day

•Administrator McCarthy, then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe and Assistant Administrator Giles learn about water pollution monitoring technology.

Administrator McCarthy, then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe and Assistant Administrator Giles learn about water pollution monitoring technology.

 

I’ve been talking a lot about the impact and promise of EPA’s Next Generation Compliance strategy. As a vital program to reduce pollution, build transparency and save costs, it has become a driving force to unleash American ingenuity and innovation. This was certainly evident last week, when EPA hosted a “Next Generation Compliance Advanced Monitoring Tech Demo Day” that convened some of the latest advances in pollution monitoring across the country. Walking through the event with Administrator McCarthy and then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe was so much fun, not to mention inspiring. EPA, academia, industry and non-profit organizations presented so many solutions there, each with a unique approach to solve complex pollution challenges.

Here’s a quick recap of what we saw.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Working Together to Tackle Environmental Challenges

By Walker Smith

The United Nations Environment Program Compound in Nairobi, Kenya, where the first meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly of the UNEP, or UNEA, was held.

As I sat in traffic on my way back to the Nairobi airport, I watched the children weaving between the old taxis and buses that clog Nairobi’s streets, breathing in the black plumes pouring out of the tailpipes. The sight was a powerful reminder of why I’d traveled to Nairobi in the first place – for the first meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Program, or UNEA.

Over 160 nations came together at the first UNEA to address the critical environmental challenges facing the world today, like air quality, marine debris, illegal trade in wildlife, and hazardous waste. UNEA provided its participants with an opportunity to discuss, learn, negotiate, and, most importantly, identify concrete ways to improve environmental quality around the globe.

One of the goals of the U.S. delegation attending UNEA was to ensure that this nearly universal group of nations strengthened the United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) efforts to improve air quality around the world. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 7 million people died as a result of air pollution in 2012 alone, making air pollution the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Poor air quality has a staggeringly high human cost, but it’s an issue we can, and must, do something about.

We’ve already made progress domestically and abroad. In the United States from 1970 to 2012, Clean Air Act programs have lowered levels of six common air pollutants by 72 percent! Internationally, the UNEP-led Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) has worked tirelessly to remove lead from fuels since its founding in 2002. Through successful efforts to eliminate leaded gas in all but 6 countries, we avoid 1.2 million premature deaths per year – 125,000 of which are children.

Looking out the car window, I thought about the progress we had made through PCFV and efforts like it, but also of the steps still to be taken. Without these efforts, the children along the road beside me would be breathing in lead, a powerful neurotoxin with irreversible health impacts; however, many of them are still exposed on a daily basis to sulfur dioxide and black carbon from vehicles and from dirty stoves in their homes. And, in the United States, we still feel the effects of air pollution, generated from both domestic sources and across the ocean.

The world faces serious environmental threats, many of which cannot be solved by one country alone. Working through UNEA and with partners like UNEP, we’ill continue to move forward, finding new solutions and forming partnerships to help us tackle these challenges. I hope one day children in Nairobi, and around the world, will live and play in a cleaner, healthier environment.

About the author: Walker Smith has served as the Director of the Office of Global Affairs & Policy in the Office of International & Tribal Affairs since 2009. She previously served as Director of the Office of Civil Enforcement at EPA and as the Principal Deputy Chief of the Environmental Enforcement Section in the Department of Justice.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Acting on Climate Change: Nurses Managing Patient Care in their Communities

Health care workers strive day in and day out to provide the best care for their patients. Yet too many Americans are still exposed to air pollution, which can lead to illnesses like asthma. Carbon pollution from power plants comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide, putting our families’ health at risk. Rising temperatures from climate change bring more smog, more asthma, and longer allergy seasons—and the elderly, children, and the infirm are most vulnerable.

That’s why health practitioners like, the nurses with Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE), have such an important role to play in managing environmental risks that impact human health. EPA recently took part in a briefing hosted by ANHE and spoke with nurses about mentorship opportunities through the Asthma Community Network and the EPA Breathe Easies asthma education campaign – a great resource for school and pediatric nurses.

Nurses from the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) talking with a mother and a child.

ANHE nurse counseling family on how to manage asthma on days with poor air quality.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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