Dirty Fight Against Clean Air

Posted: May 13, 1997

A powerful alliance of oil and chemical companies, auto manufacturers and power-plant owners has launched an assault on health standards required by the Clean Air Act.

Doctors and scientists are concerned about smog and particulate matter because of the steady increase in the number of Americans suffering from asthma. Once you have asthma, air pollution - especially smog and particulate matter - can trigger symptoms that could send you to your inhaler, your doctor, the emergency room - or could be fatal. Studies ranked Philadelphia fourth-worst in the nation, based on the number of annual deaths attributable to particulate air pollution - 2,599.

Consider a few compelling facts:

* More than 60,000 premature deaths are estimated to occur each year due to inhaling particles of soot.

* Asthma deaths have doubled since 1979.

* Asthma is the leading cause of childhood hospital admissions.

Companies responsible for this pollution fill the airwaves and newspapers with dire predictions of social dislocation and economic ruin should new standards take effect. They predict that government will ban barbecues, lawn mowers and fireworks. None of these claims is true.

Let's face it: Exxon, General Motors and DuPont are not primarily concerned with whether we can barbecue, much less with whether our kids have asthma attacks.

One oil-industry lobbyist said: ``People can protect themselves. They can avoid jogging. Asthmatic kids need not go out and ride their bicycles.''

A lobbyist for the auto industry added: ``The effects of ozone are not that serious . . . We're talking about . . . a temporary loss in lung function of 20 to 30 percent. That's not really a health effect.''

Most of us are appalled by this kind of talk, but many members of Congress appear to be convinced by it. Over three elections, ``dirty air'' political action committees have given more than $27 million to congressional campaigns.

President Clinton and the Environmental Protection Agency need to stand up to the polluters and their lobbyists.

The stakes for all of us are high. The first victim of the special-interest attack on clean air may be truth, but we cannot allow our loved ones to be next.

David Masur is campaign director for the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG). Joel Chinitz is clinical director of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

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