Statement Of Suzanne Seppi
Environmental Protection Agency
Aging Initiative Public Listening Session
April 23, 2003
Group Against Smog and Pollution
Group Against Smog and Pollution
Currently there are 35 million people in the United States 65 years of age and older and that number is expected to double over the next 30 years so that one in every five Americans will be over 65. It is wonderful that the Environmental Protection Agency is forging an aging initiative including seeking the council of this demographic group in order to better understand the interactions between older individuals and the environment.
Still, in general, all age groups want and need, simply stated, the same thing, a healthy environment. Are we there, does Pittsburgh for example, provide a healthy place to live and work? We know that here as elsewhere in the country, based on the new standards, there are unhealthy levels of fine particulates and ozone. How does this affect older people over 65?
This demographic group suffers in greater numbers from the four leading causes of death, heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Fine particulate pollution in particular is being associated in numerous health studies with various health conditions including premature death. "All told, heart disease, stroke and chronic lung diseases cost Americans nearly $248 billion in direct medical costs in 2002 and result in another $49 billion in lost productivity."1 The Air Quality Index recommends that individuals in sensitive groups, such as those with these illnesses, remain indoors on high pollution days but in reality, that is no answer nor is it appropriate to recommend being housebound because of dirty air. Many individuals in the older age group will be outdoors, some for work related activities, some for necessary appointments or long planned events. The solution is to clean the air for these citizens whose health especially depends on your work and for all people young or old.
- The Clear Skies Proposal is disappointing. The proposal would take until 2018 to make real reductions when we need these reductions much sooner and at deeper levels of reduction. Several analyses indicate that faithful implementation of the Clean Air Act alone would bring us deeper reductions in a more expeditious manner.
- The new rules and proposed rules in the New Source Review regulations do little to improve public health. Where there had been an enforcement opportunity to have older polluting facilities upgrade their emission controls in a significant manner, there is now a pass to keep those plants operating with minimal if any overall pollution control upgrades.
- Toxic emissions are also part of the air but there are scant requirements for ambient monitoring or understanding the impact of the myriad of chemicals we breathe. Since many toxic chemicals are bioaccumulative, they may well be represented in older people in a higher concentration, their effects little understood. This is an area of research that should be pursued. One chemical, mercury is of particular concern as no part of the earth is free from its contamination and once released it persists, circulating between air, water, sediments, soil and biota in various forms.
While mercury reductions do appear in the Clear Skies Proposal, we should be shooting at more reductions sooner. Even more worrisome, are implications in a letter recently sent to President Bush by several members of the House of Representatives and a Senator indicating concern that the United States negotiators undermined a strong agreement on mercury opposing even voluntary controls at a meeting of the United Nations Environment Programme in Nairobi in February 2003.
- Finally, the life of every person must have equivalent value. It is very disturbing that as part of an analysis to judge the worth of environmental improvements, the lives of people over the age of 70 appear to bring a discount into the equation. As more of the population ages, the calculus of environmental improvements will diminish, even though we know that older Americans are a sensitive population with respect to pollution.
Thank you for this opportunity today to make these comments.
1. US PIRG: "The Bush Air Pollution Plan: Putting More Senior Citizens' Health At Risk" from-Morbidity and Mortality: 2002 Chart Book on Cardiovascular Lung, and Blood Diseases, National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, May 2002.