Air

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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Safeguarding Public Health by Addressing Climate Change

In his State of the Union Address this year, President Obama said, “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” The science is clear and getting clearer: climate change threatens our health, our economy, our environment and our way of life in dangerous and costly ways – from superstorms and heat waves to devastating droughts, floods and wildfires. At EPA, our mission is to safeguard public health and the environment and addressing climate change is major priority.

The more we learn about climate change’s impacts on our health, the more urgent the need for action becomes. We know that impacts related to climate change are already evident and are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond. That’s why, under the President’s Climate Action Plan, we are taking action now to reduce greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons. These pollutants trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, fuel climate change and lead to health-threatening consequences for the United States and the rest of the world.

Climate change is expected to worsen air quality, including exposure to ground-level ozone, which can aggravate asthma and other lung diseases and lead to premature death. The number of extremely hot days is already increasing, and severe heat waves are projected to intensify, increasing heat-related mortality and sickness. Changes in temperature, precipitation patterns, and extreme events can enhance the spread of diseases carried by insects, animals, food and water. Climate change also contributes to longer and more severe pollen seasons, increasing the suffering of people with allergies. Climate change is expected to lead to more intense extreme weather events, which can result in direct health effects, while also affecting human health and welfare long after an event, through the spread of water-borne pathogens, exposure to mold, increased mental health and stress disorders, and weakened health and response systems.

And our most vulnerable populations – like children, minorities, communities already overburdened with pollution or poverty, and older Americans – are at greater risk from these impacts.

The good news is that we have a long history of working with states, tribes and industry to protect public health by reducing air pollution. Together, by implementing the federal Clean Air Act, we have reduced air pollution from motor vehicles and smokestacks by nearly 70 percent since 1970. Fewer emissions means less exposure to harmful pollutants such as lead, smog, or soot that directly threaten people’s health. And we’re using similar approaches to reduce the pollution affecting our climate.

We are moving forward with common-sense, cost-effective solutions that will improve Americans’ health and environment. Standards for cars, trucks and heavy duty highway vehicles will eliminate six billion metric tons of greenhouse gases, while saving consumers $1.7 trillion at the pump by 2025.

The proposed Clean Power Plan will cut hundreds of millions of tons of carbon pollution and hundreds of thousands of tons of harmful particle pollution, sulfur and nitrogen oxides now emitted by fossil-fuel fired power plants.

Together these important programs will help our economy grow and our communities thrive while protecting the health of American families now and in the years to come. Learn more about the impacts of climate change and things you can do to shrink your carbon footprint.

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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Acid rain, toxic leaded gas, and widespread air pollution? Not anymore. Thanks to EPA.

Acid rain. Dangerous DDT. Toxic leaded gas fumes. Rampant air pollution. These environmental challenges once seemed impossible to meet, and they put our nation’s air, water, and land at risk—not to mention our families’ health. The dangers they posed were real, but you probably haven’t heard about them in a while. There’s a good reason for that.

We put smart policies in place to fix them.

So this Earth Day, here’s a reminder of a few of the environmental challenges our nation has conquered with EPA leading the way, and where we’re headed next.

Acid Rain

Caused by air pollution mixing with water vapor in the atmosphere, acid rain was once poisoning our rivers and lakes, killing fish, forests, and wildlife, and even eroding our buildings.

The 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act gave EPA the authority to regulate sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the pollutants causing acid rain, from power plants. The EPA developed the first market-based cap-and-trade pollution reduction program, and guess what—it worked.

Despite the doomsday warnings from some in the power industry that the regulations would cause electricity prices to spike and lead to blackouts, over the last 25 years, acid rain levels are down 60%—while electricity prices have stayed stable, and the lights have stayed on. Thanks to hard work by EPA, states, and industry, our nation has put policies in place to solve the problem over the long haul.

Leaded Gasoline

For decades, leaded gasoline threatened the air our kids breathed. Lead from polluted air was absorbed into their bloodstreams, endangering their brain development and risking consequences like permanent nerve damage, anemia, and mental retardation. So EPA phased out leaded gas. Back in the late 1970s, 88 percent of American children had elevated levels of lead in their blood. By the mid-2000s, that number had dropped to less than 1 percent.

DDT

The bald eagle once faced extinction. The culprit was DDT, a powerful pesticide that made birds’ eggshells too weak for the chicks to survive, and also caused liver cancer and reproductive problems in humans. EPA banned the use of DDT in 1972, and since then, bald eagles have made a huge comeback—they were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007—and our families are safer from harmful chemicals.

Air Pollution

A newspaper headline once called the smog shrouding Los Angeles “a dirty gray blanket flung across the city.” L.A. and many other cities like this one were choked by severe air pollution—leading to asthma, respiratory illness, and certain cancers. But over the last 45 years, we’ve cut air pollution 70 percent, while our nation’s economy has tripled. It goes to show that a strong economy and a safe environment go hand in hand.

Breathing Easier

Every day, EPA works toward cleaner air. One recent study found that thanks to the strides we’ve made in cutting air pollution in just the last 2 decades, children’s lungs in Southern California are 10% bigger and stronger today than they were in children 20 years ago.

Last fall, we built on that success by proposing stricter standards for ozone pollution to protect those most vulnerable—children, the elderly, and those already suffering from respiratory illnesses like asthma. For our kids, that means avoiding up to a million missed school days, thousands of cases of acute bronchitis, and nearly a million asthma attacks. Adults could avoid hundreds of emergency room visits for cardiovascular reasons, up to 180,000 missed work days, and 4 million days where people have to deal with pollution-related symptoms. Every dollar we invest in these standards would return $3 in health benefits.

Looking Ahead

And now, EPA is taking action on another major environmental challenge—climate change. The carbon pollution driving it comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants like smog and soot that can cause asthma and certain cancers, especially for those living in the shadow of polluting industries.

When we finalize our Clean Power Plan this summer, we’ll not only cut carbon pollution from power plants, our nation’s largest source, but we’ll also reduce those other dangerous pollutants and protect our families’ health. When we act, we also help safeguard communities from the impacts of climate change—like more severe droughts, storms, fires, and floods.

Time after time, when science has pointed to health risks, EPA has obeyed the law, followed the science, protected public health, and fortified a strong American economy. We’re doing the same thing today. Our track record proves that when EPA leads the way, there’s no environmental challenge our nation can’t meet.

 

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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Communities are Leading the Way on Renewable Energy

By switching to green power, cities and towns across the country are taking a leading role in taking action against climate change. Green power is electricity that comes from a subset of clean, renewable resources like solar or wind power. Many communities have discovered these clean sources of energy are important tools in cutting their carbon footprint, supporting a growing domestic clean energy economy, and better protecting our air and public health.

Today, fossil-fueled power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to a third of the U.S. total emissions. Most electricity generated today comes from fossil fuels but a small and growing percentage is generated using renewable sources. Since President Obama took office, wind energy has tripled and solar has grown ten-fold. In 2015, a full 60% of the new energy that gets added to our electrical grid will come from wind and solar. The costs have come down, too.

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Our Green Power Partnership tracks trends in voluntary green power usage. Not only have we seen steady growth in local government partners (135 and counting!), but more and more often we’re seeing that local governments, businesses, and residents are voluntarily joining together to use green power at levels that earn the distinction of an EPA Green Power Community.

EPA Green Power Communities both large and small are proving they can have a big impact by using green power. For instance in Evanston, Illinois, the residents and businesses and the local government collectively use more than 228 million kilowatt-hours of green power annually, making up more than 30 percent of Evanston’s total electricity usage. The local government runs on 100 percent green power and generates power from the Evanston Water Treatment Facility’s rooftop solar energy system. Washington, D.C., is the largest EPA Green Power Community in terms of total green power usage, with more than one billion kilowatt-hours of green power being used by District residents, businesses, institutions and government entities. Collectively, green power now supplies more than 12 percent of total electricity use in the District.

Green Power Communities are using green power to support their economic and climate goals. Oak Ridge, Tennessee, set an ambitious goal of reducing the community’s greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030 from 2004 baseline levels. The city launched a community challenge to encourage greater participation in their local renewable energy program, resulting in community-wide green power use of 5.5 percent, and a participation rate nearly three times the rate at the start of the challenge. The City of Beaverton, Oregon, purchases enough wind energy to power all of its facilities and operations and also invests in on-site generation, with a solar array on its main library building. The Beaverton City Council recently approved the construction of a 433 kW solar photovoltaic array, which is expected to provide approximately 55 percent of the facility’s annual power needs.

Our proposed Clean Power Plan seeks to build on this trend. Our proposal identifies tailor-made carbon pollution reduction goals for each state, but it’s up to states to choose their own low-carbon path to get there. One clear choice is to use low or zero emission sources like wind and solar. And thanks to the many cities and towns that have already blazed the trail and are currently building and using more renewable energy, we know this shift can be made.

So when you see that windmill farm or big solar array, you can feel good knowing that some of the energy used in your community is coming from homegrown, clean, sources that help protect our climate for generations to come.

And, I’m happy to report that we run on 100 percent green power!

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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Climate Action Is Driving Innovation, and Our Economy

Forty-four years ago this month, EPA announced its first set of national air quality standards under the Clean Air Act. That’s 44 years of people breathing easier, staying healthier and for many, knowing they can walk outside and see the beauty of the mountains and blue skies that surround them.

There’s another big benefit of these standards and other actions we’ve taken under the Clean Air Act that we don’t talk about enough: They help grow our economy.

For every dollar we spend on clean air, our economy and our health reap huge benefits. Since the Clean Air Act passed, we’ve cut air pollution by 70 percent, and at the same time our economy has tripled in size. Cleaning up our air has contributed to that growth.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA proposed a Clean Power Plan last summer, to cut the harmful carbon pollution fueling climate change from our largest source—our power plants. The Clean Power Plan will encourage investment in cleaner energy technologies and sources. It will boost our economy by helping us move towards a modern energy system that creates good jobs and new opportunities, and unleashes American innovation that will help us continue to lead globally.

The opportunity to act on climate is already shifting the way Americans do business. More than 1,000 of the world’s largest multinational companies call climate change “one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of this century,” and major banks like Citi Group are investing hundreds of billions in climate and clean energy financing.

Clean energy is growing like never before. Since President Obama took office, wind energy has tripled and solar has grown ten-fold. In 2015, a full 60% of the new energy that gets added to our electrical grid will come from wind and solar.

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That growth expands industries and creates an abundance of opportunities, not only for entrepreneurs, but for people who are seeking good jobs that help them make a difference in their communities. About 2.7 million people now make a living from the clean energy economy, and that number is constantly growing. These people are developing clean energy projects, crafting more energy-efficient appliances, constructing green buildings and retrofitting existing buildings, and more – saving consumers money and driving down the carbon pollution that is fueling climate change.

The Clean Power Plan sends a clear signal to the market, so our nation’s business leaders and innovators can think ahead to the technologies and investments of the future, rather than stay stuck on those of the past. A modern economy needs a modern energy system. The Clean Power Plan is key to seizing our clean energy future, while protecting our health, our environment, and our way of life from the risks of climate change.

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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New Tools and Approaches Are Reshaping Environmental Compliance

I recently joined EPA staff and leaders from across academia, industry and non-profit sectors for a conference dedicated to the latest Next Generation Compliance strategies and solutions, hosted by George Washington University Law School. With topics ranging from how to use new technologies to improve compliance, to citizen monitoring and state-federal collaboration (just to name a few), one thing was clear – there is strong momentum and lots of progress in Next Gen today that’s shaping the future of environmental enforcement and compliance.

The conference inspired me to take a moment to reflect on all of this progress. Here are a few examples of what we’ve already accomplished:

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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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Building Momentum toward a Safer Climate and a Healthier Nation

April 6-12 is National Public Health Week, which this year carries the theme: “Healthiest Nation 2030.” EPA and the American Public Health Association (APHA) are shining a light on the harmful health effects of climate change and making the case for strong climate action.

We constantly see devastating climate impacts threaten the health of communities around the country. After Hurricane Sandy left New York City dark and underwater, nurses at NYU’s Langone Medical Center had to use the glow of their cell phones to care for infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The historic drought in the West has led to forest fires and water restrictions, and is still punishing people and businesses. Climate change supercharges risks for extreme storms, floods, fires, and drought that destabilize communities, especially those least equipped to defend themselves.

Health risks from climate change are not just born from the crushing infrastructure and weather impacts. The carbon pollution fueling climate change comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide that lead to asthma and respiratory illnesses—including some cancers. As temperatures rise, smog becomes worse, and allergy seasons get longer, further risking our families’ health and making it harder for kids to breathe. Warmer temperatures also increase vector-borne diseases by expanding seasons and geographic ranges for ticks, mosquitoes and other disease carrying insects to roam.

People on a beach
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An Inspiring Afternoon with Women Scientists and Engineers from Carnegie Mellon University

 

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon at Carnegie Mellon University with very impressive women faculty members and doctoral candidates in the engineering, environment and public policy fields.

These women of diverse backgrounds and experiences enlightened me about their work on a number of environmental challenges facing us today. They are doing important research on the life-cycle of energy systems and their impact on climate change and mitigation. Through these efforts, faculty and students are seeking to understand the social, economic and environmental implications of energy consumption tools that can be used to support sustainable energy.

I was pleased to learn that one Ph.D. candidate is studying water quality and marine life in the Monongahela River. We’re doing very similar work in our Wheeling, West Virginia office and I hope we can build on each other’s progress. There are a number of interesting and practical research projects on air quality modeling, agriculture, and natural gas – I am interested in learning about the final outcomes of these projects and how it may increase our understanding in those areas.

My visit to Carnegie Mellon is timely since we celebrate Women’s History Month in March. Women have a long history in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) that many may not realize. Women play an important role by fostering a robust and diverse scientific community that draws from a broad array of unique experiences and skills. Developing diverse world-class talent in STEM, is absolutely critical in meeting the growing environmental challenges facing our modern world.

I am inspired by the passion and creativity of the talented group of engineers and scientists at Carnegie Mellon. They are striving to make meaningful contributions to the environment for generations to come. We need to ensure more women have the opportunity to pursue degrees in the various fields of science. These women scientists and engineers are helping to move this forward.

Shawn M. Garvin is EPA’s Regional Administrator for Region 3, overseeing the agency’s operations in Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Shawn’s career in intergovernmental affairs spans more than 20 years at the federal and local levels.

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Driving toward a cleaner future

Today, EPA issued its second annual Manufacturer Performance Report on progress toward meeting the greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks. This is essentially a detailed report card telling us how the industry and individual manufacturers are doing in complying with the standards for the 2013 model year. I’m pleased to say that, for the second year of the program, the auto industry is ahead of the curve.

Because the ultimate destination for this road trip is to nearly double fuel economy by 2025, a strong start is great news for the environment and public health, family budgets and America’s energy security. When EPA and the Department of Transportation announced the standards, the program was called a “Win-Win-Win.” A win for the environment and our health because it reduces the emissions that contribute to the greatest environmental threat of our time…. climate change. In fact we expect it to cut 6 billion metric tons of GHGs. A win for consumers because the fuel efficiency goals will save families money at the pump, adding up to more than $1.7 trillion in saved fuel costs over the life of the program. And finally, a win for energy independence. The policy is expected to reduce America’s dependence on oil by more than 2 million barrels per day by 2025.

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You Might Know the Next Rachel Carson

flaagRachel Carson wrote a famous book called Silent Spring, which led our country to ban DDT, a harmful pesticide, and rethink the relationship between our environment and our health. Before that, she served as a scientist and editor at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, eventually becoming Editor-in-Chief of all of the agency’s publications. In those days, it was rare for a woman to serve as a scientist, and even more rare to rise to a position of leadership.

Our country has made a lot of progress since then. In 1970, only 11% of women between the ages of 25 and 64 had a college degree. By 2012, that number had climbed to 38%. And since the late 1990s, women have been awarded about half of all bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering. But in spite of all these gains, only about one in four environmental scientists or geoscientists across the country are women – so we still have a long way to go.

EPA has been lucky to have many extraordinary women launch and grow their careers here. We make up a little more than half of EPA’s workforce, and about 44% of our supervisors and managers. Women do just about every job you can imagine — from running major research efforts to analyzing data to steering our work to protect clean air and water.

That includes environmental experts like Jane Nishida, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator in our Office of International and Tribal Affairs, and Janet McCabe, Acting Assistant Administrator for our Office of Air and Radiation, who worked to launch our international air quality monitoring effort that is helping us lead the way as we act on climate. It includes lawyers like Lorie Schmidt, who played a key role in last year’s Supreme Court win affirming our authority to regulate greenhouse gases, and who is heavily involved in finalizing our Clean Power Plan. It also includes innovative leaders like Cynthia Giles, our Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, who developed our Next-Generation Compliance program that leverages new technologies for monitoring, reporting, permitting and transparency, making it easier for companies and organizations to follow the law.

Five of our 13 Administrators since the agency was established have been women, including our current leader, Gina McCarthy. Five of our current Associate and Assistant Administrators are women, too. Three of our 10 Regional Administrators and seven of our 10 Deputy Regional Administrators are women who guide our work in different parts of the country. The women leaders here are too many to list, and for every one woman who has been in the public eye, there are dozens more driving our work forward throughout the organization.

Odds are good that you know a young woman who will soon be thinking about what she wants to study in school, and what path she wants her life to take. Encourage her to seek out a career where she can help protect the environment. That young woman you know could be the next Rachel Carson or Gina McCarthy, and she might step into a decades-long career in public service and environmental protection that changes the face of the world.

All throughout March, we’ll be highlighting women here at the EPA and at some of our sister agencies who are moving our work forward. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to join the conversation, and check out the slideshow below to meet a few of the women who work here at the EPA.

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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