Statement Of Dennis R. Winters
Environmental Protection Agency
Aging Initiative Public Listening Session
April 23, 2003
Clean Air Council
Clean Air Council
Good morning, my name is Dennis Winters and I am the Deputy Director of Clean Air Council.
Clean Air Council is committed to the position that everyone has a right to breathe clean, healthful air. Founded in Philadelphia in 1967, the Council is the oldest member-supported environmental organization in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. While its principal office is in Philadelphia, Clean Air Council also has offices in Harrisburg and Wilmington, Delaware. The Council's team of attorneys, community organizers, and policy analysts focus their efforts on the following key areas: Clean Air Act implementation, clean energy, sustainable transportation, waste reduction and recycling, indoor air pollution, and children's environmental health.
Thank you for inviting the Council's participation at this Listening Session. The USEPA is to be commended for its thirty-five year history of involving the public in regulations and rule-makings on important environmental and health issues.
Today I will limit my testimony to the effects of air pollution on the elderly.
Senior citizens have been identified as a population at special risk with regard to environmental pollution. While senior citizens have the advantage of a longer-range perspective than most citizens and generally speaking have accumulated considerable wisdom, their age puts them at a disadvantage in terms of health because of the cumulative nature of many toxins and environmental pollution. Aging individuals are more susceptible to air pollution because of the declining margin of safety in the function of various organ systems, including the respiratory and immune systems, and because of long-term exposure to pollutants and other environmental hazards. Seniors, along with children, are most at risk in severe air pollution episodes. And next to Florida, Pennsylvania has the largest senior population in the country.
The single largest industrial contributor of air pollution in the United States is the electric power industry. Nationally, power plants are responsible for 66% of all soot in the air, 29% of smog-forming pollution, and 21% mercury emissions. Power plants are also responsible for 36% of carbon dioxide emissions, a major contributor to global warming.
It is the older power plants that are responsible for most of the electric industry's air pollution. Although most of Pennsylvania's large power plants have installed some pollution control technology as a result of the Clean Air Act, a loophole in the Act permits older power plants to pollute at anywhere from 4 to 10 times the rate that is permitted at newer plants.
Power plant pollution leads to serious health problems for Pennsylvanians, especially for the elderly, who suffer disproportionately from air pollution's impact. It is this pollution that threatens the health of almost 2 millions Pennsylvanians who suffer from asthma and others respiratory illnesses. Air pollution causes the premature death of more than 5,000 people in Pennsylvania each year. Pennsylvania's air was unhealthy to breathe on one out of every three days last summer.
Ground level ozone is a powerful lung irritant that disproportionately affects seniors. It can inflame the lungs and cause harmful changes in breathing patterns. According to the American Lung Association ozone pollution even at low levels, has been linked to an increase in hospital admissions and emergency room visits for respiratory problems. Exposure is a particular problem for seniors because their respiratory systems have lost much of the lung capacity, efficiency, and natural cleansing ability present in their youth.
Particulate matter is another form of air pollution that severely affects elderly. Since particulate matter is made up of small particles in can be inhaled deeply into the lungs where it is absorbed into the bloodstream or becomes embedded in the walls of the lung. Recent research has shown that exposure to relatively low concentrations of particulate matter correlates with premature death. In fact, according to a study by one of EPA's own consultants, Abt Associates, as many as 2,250 Pennsylvanians have their lives shortened each year due to exposure to pollution from older, dirty power plants; up to 1,460 of these deaths would be avoided by passing and implementing the Clean Power Act.
These same plants emit pollution that triggers almost 20,000 asthma attacks every year in Pennsylvania, affecting many seniors as well as children. If these plants were forced to install pollution controls and comply with the law, nearly 12,000 of these attacks would be avoided.
Despite our efforts to combat air pollution over the past thirty years, serious air quality problems remain throughout the nation. Air quality has remained poor and even deteriorated in many parts of the country. The EPA estimates that nearly half our entire population -110 million Americans - breathe and live in areas with unhealthy air. From the aggravation of respiratory problems such as asthma and emphysema to premature death, air pollution is taking its toll on America's health.
With the elderly being disproportionately affected by pollution Clean Air Council finds it odd that the Office of Management and Budget would devalue the lives of senior citizens in this country! Couched in terms of making certain 'cost/benefit analyses' more accurate, the OMB has proposed valuing the life of a senior citizen at only 63% of that of a younger person. While placing a monetary value on human life is arguably problematic in the first place, assigning value on the basis of age sets a dangerous precedent for skewing the process even further in the future.
Which lives would be devalued next? The disabled, native Americans, people who live below the Mason-Dixon line, motorcyclists, surely you can see where this kind of reasoning might lead. Since children are usually included with seniors when talking about populations who are the most vulnerable to pollution and other environmental threats, and since they are not yet 'productive' individuals in society, could the value of their lives be subject to the same arbitrary discounting at some point in the future?
Clean Air Council calls on the EPA to emphatically reject a policy that devalues those citizens in our society who have not just reached the age of 70, but have also acquired a lifetime of wisdom, hindsight, and experience that society needs in order to improve and evolve.
Reasonable public officials have to see through this appalling attempt to alter cost-benefit analyses to make them appear too expensive to clean up our air and water and otherwise protect public health. Cutting the value of health and safety standards for seniors in order to protect polluting industries is unacceptable public policy. Even though completely arbitrary in the first place, any value government places on human life must be equal for all.
The Clean Air Council calls on the EPA to address the serious air quality concerns that affect seniors, and all Americans, and to discard OMB's policy of discounting the value of society's elderly citizens.