Our 'Safe' Pollution Levels Aren't Enough to Keep Kids Safe, Study Says

A new study shows air pollution levels deemed safe in the United States still kill thousands of people every year—and moms are leading the way in response.
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Even with protections in place to keep our air clean, air pollution still kills thousands of Americans every year.

In the United States, our National Ambient Air Quality Standards set a limit on how much pollution can be in the air for it to be deemed safe to breathe. But a new study from The New England Journal of Medicine shows that even pollution levels that fall below this "safe" standard are dangerous.

Researchers used data from nearly 4,000 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air-monitoring stations across the country and health records of more than 60 million Medicare patients to determine whether people died younger in areas with more pollution. They did—even in areas with pollution levels under the national air quality standard.

"We are now providing bullet-proof evidence that we are breathing harmful air," the study's lead author Francesca Dominici told NPR. "Our air is contaminated."

What's killing people in the air? It's essentially particles of dust and soot, often from power plants, factories, cars, and construction sites. According to the Centers for Disease Control, breathing in these particles has been linked to low birth weight in babies, lung cancer, worsening asthma symptoms, and heart attacks in people with heart disease.

With these extensive health risks in mind, it seems air pollution isn't a partisan issue anymore. A poll by the Moms Clean Air Force surveyed 800 mothers' and grandmothers' opinions on air pollution. The results, released on Thursday, showed agreement across the political spectrum: The majority of moms and grandmas are concerned about air pollution.

Laura Burns, a conservative mother-of-two from Ohio and member of Moms Clean Air Force, says that climate change—and the air pollution that makes it worse—is the defining issue of our time. And she also believes moms can make a difference in the fight for their kids' futures.

"It’s the soccer moms who realize the impact of poor air quality days right away," Burns said in a press statement. "As a soccer coach, I can see the children struggling on the field due to the air quality."

Moms Clean Air Force's poll also showed a majority of moms and grandmoms don't think we're "doing enough as a nation to protect clean air and clean water for your children and grandchildren in the coming years and decades."

To encourage more action on air pollution, Molly Rauch, public health policy director of Moms Clean Air Force, follows the motto of “support the actions that are good, defend against the actions that are bad.”

Rauch said moms can recruit friends to write to legislators and simply tell lawmakers that parents care deeply about air pollution, especially with upcoming decisions on budget cuts at the EPA. She added, “It’s amazing how much of an impact a handwritten note can have.”

She also suggested parents reach out to big corporations. “When we see any number of companies come out and say we support renewable energy," she said, "it’s really important to pick up the phone or shoot an email and say thank you, this is the right thing to do.”

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