Smog: A reminder congressional leaders must protect air we breathe

As a mom of two children and a pediatrician who specializes in public health, I think about my children’s health.

Throughout the summer months when the kids go to camps or go outside, I’m especially aware of the steps needed to protect their health and safety, such as making sure they have plenty of water to drink, sunscreen and insect repellent.

I’m also concerned about their air pollution exposure and I’m very concerned by what I see happening in Congress that can increase their risks.

Congress is considering a bill that would make it much harder to protect children and others from the nation’s most widespread air pollutants, including one that is particularly present during summer months.

Ground-level ozone pollution, sometimes called smog, is a dangerous pollutant that harms the lungs and breathing passages. Ozone contributes to trouble breathing, asthma attacks, and hospitalizations, in both children and adults. It can even cause early death.

Ozone forms when emissions released into the air by vehicles, power plants and other sources react chemically with heat and sunlight. Consequently, ozone is more likely to form during the kind of days we have when our children are playing outdoors at summer camp.

The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that children are more vulnerable to air pollution because their lungs are still developing, they breathe more air for their size, they spend more time outside and they are more active.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, those most at risk from ozone pollution include people with asthma, all children, older adults and people who are active outdoors, especially outdoor workers. And the evidence is growing. In June, the New England Journal of Medicine published new research showing ozone causes increased premature deaths in Medicare recipients at levels currently considered “safe.”

The American Lung Association’s recent State of the Air Report found Georgia’s air quality has improved over the last few years. This is thanks to the Clean Air Act, which is one of our nation’s strongest public health laws. However, these improvements are at risk.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to pass H.R. 806, which has the misleading title of “The Ozone Standards Implementation Act.” It would be more accurate if it were called the “Smoggy Skies Act” because it would weaken the tools the Clean Air Act gives us to fight pollution. In addition to passing the House, this harmful bill has also been introduced in the Senate.

The “Smoggy Skies Act” attacks the 2015 ozone pollution standard, which is the official limit on how much ozone is considered safe to breathe based on current research. This critical air pollution protection has gone through full scientific review, with time for public comments, public hearings and advice from independent scientific committees. The bill seeks to delay those protections for at least eight years.

Eight years in the life of a child is a long time. Because children and teenagers have lungs that continue to develop until they reach maturity, breathing in air pollution can actually put them at greater risk of lung disease as they age. Delaying this rule for eight years will impact the health of Georgia’s children, from infancy through their teen years.

In addition, the “Smoggy Skies Act” would put lives at risk by permanently delaying updates to limits on not just ozone, but all dangerous air pollutants limited by the similar scientific standards-setting processes – carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide.

The bottom line is the bill would threaten the health of all Georgians, and all Americans, by weakening science-based limits on air pollution across the board.

EPA must fully implement and enforce the Clean Air Act and Congress must not weaken it. I urge Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue to save our lungs and vote “no” on S. 263, the “Smoggy Skies Act.”