Doctors representing a number of prominent U.S. health organizations concerned about proposals to weaken the Clean Air Act sent a letter today to Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) correcting the record on the health impacts of toxic air pollution and urging him to support the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ability to implement life-saving pollution standards. The letter was sent in response to comments Rep. Barton made regarding the public health impact of toxic emissions on April 15, 2011, at the House Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing.

"Rep. Barton and other members of Congress cannot continue to ignore the evidence that air pollution directly affects public health and has had devastating consequences for thousands of Americans," said Albert A. Rizzo, MD, the Chair-elect of the American Lung Association.

"Public health and medical professionals are concerned that failure to uphold EPA standards - the only safeguards Americans have against toxic pollutants - will cause patients to suffer greater exposure to mercury, particulate matter, and other pollutants.

Specifically, the letter addresses Rep. Barton's statement that mercury and particulate pollution do not pose health threats to the public. Rep. Barton prefaced his remarks by stating that "he is not a doctor," but then went on to suggest that EPA pulled the numbers "out of thin air." Included with the letter is a bibliography of published, peer-reviewed studies that demonstrate the negative health effects mercury and particulate matter exposure has on patients.

"Hazardous air emissions are linked to a whole range of serious and immediate human health risks," said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E), executive director of American Public Health Association. "These dangerous pollutants can worsen asthma and other respiratory diseases; cause heart attacks, cancers and stroke; and exact an enormous economic toll in terms of health-related costs and lost productivity. The Clean Air Act is a critical public health intervention that safeguards communities across the country from dangerous air pollutants and must be protected."

The full letter can be viewed here.

Mercury is a toxic chemical known to cause severe birth defects and neurological disorders. Emissions from power plants and other large industrial polluters is the leading source of mercury in the environment. Particulate matter is another toxic pollutant released by power plants that has major affects on the health of Americans. Breathing in particulate matter can cause an increased risk of asthma attacks, cardiovascular conditions, cancer, and premature death.

The organizations writing to Representative Barton all support the implementation of air quality standards set forth by the EPA. These regulations help reduce toxic emissions and create cleaner air for our most vulnerable populations: children, seniors and those suffering from asthma and other respiratory disorders. In 2010 alone, the Clean Air Act saved Americans over $1 trillion in medical bills and has actually increased life expectancy in many U.S. cities.

"Upholding the Clean Air Act is a matter of public health and an imperative that we urge Rep. Barton and other members of Congress to support," said Dr. Rizzo.

American Lung Association

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