Improving air quality helps Americans breathe easy

A couple of years ago, a group called the Clean Air Task Force published a study indicating that ?nationwide, power plant pollution is cutting short the lives of 30,100 Americans each year.?  This report, along with other claims emanating from such groups as the NRDC, seemed to create the perception that unless we begin a massive effort to cork smokestacks, we?ll all be choking in clouds of toxic smog real soon.  Indeed, a recent poll showed that 78 percent of those surveyed were concerned about this ?problem.?


Now comes an article by the Georgia Public Policy Institute that is blowing fresh air onto this subject.


Citing EPA data, the Institute uncovered the fact that, contrary to public opinion, our air has not only improved ? but improved so much so that it actually saved lives over its first 20 years.  The report entitled ?The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act, 1970 to 1990,? was actually published way back in 1997 – though for some reason failed to garner any major press at the time.  What it revealed was that, on average, some 130,000 lives were saved each year ? for a total of 2.6 million over the entire time period.


The EPA calculated the number of lives saved in its report using levels of particles smaller than 10 micrometers (PM-10) as an indicator of ?criterion? pollution.  Levels of ozone, nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, and carbon monoxide were also examined, as well as lead.


So what?s this have to do with today?  Well, according to the article by the Georgia Public Policy Institute:


?Numerous estimates have been offered of deaths due to air pollution; most have great uncertainty. Clearly, the federal agency?s evaluation of lives saved in the past ought to have much more credibility than others? predictions of deaths from current or future air pollution, because we know full well how much pollution has decreased in the past. More importantly, the logical deduction from the EPA estimate is that even if we accept the Clean Air Task Force?s projection of 30,100 deaths per year caused by power plant air pollution, and even if we could eliminate all that pollution, it would take 86 years to save as many lives as have already been saved from 1970 to 1990. And if we use the 1990 rate for lives saved since then (the rate likely has increased, because the air has become cleaner), it would take 166 years to equal the 5 million lives saved from 1970 to 2003.?


So are we making progress?  The answer seems self-evident. Maybe now we can all breath a little easier. 


About the Author: CFACT

CFACT defends the environment and human welfare through facts, news, and analysis.