Gasping for Support
Living in poverty can be hazardous to your health in many respects – more incidences of violence, less access to quality grocery stores, and few safe places to exercise, just to name a few. Previous studies have shown those living in poverty also breathe dirtier air. Regular exposure to air pollution increases the risk of cancer, asthma attacks, and premature death, as well as emergency room visits and health costs. According to a new report from the Center for Effective Government, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a chance to protect millions of low-income and other vulnerable Americans.
The EPA is planning to decrease the amount of ozone – one of the six most widespread air pollutants, often encountered as smog – considered acceptable in the air. The proposed standards the EPA is considering would help between 49 and 85 million Americans, 7.5-12.5 million of whom live in poverty, breathe cleaner air. The Center for Effective Government is recommending an even stricter ozone standard than the EPA is currently considering. By adopting this tougher standard, an additional 106 million Americans would be protected. Of these, nearly 25 million are children, more than 14.3 million are elderly, and more than 15.7 million live in poverty. This interactive map allows you to see these numbers broken down by county.
The report also notes that the effects of ozone are greater on children living in poverty. Poor nutrition can lower the ability to fend off breathing problems caused by ozone. Asthma triggers such as rodent droppings are more likely found in poor quality housing. Increased stress caused by living in poverty, lack of access to health care, and long-term exposure to higher levels of air pollution can also exacerbate the negative health impacts of breathing dirty air.
Setting stricter ozone standards is only one part of the solution, though. Over the last 10 years, federal air quality funding to states, which are primarily responsible for developing, implementing, and enforcing clean air programs, has fallen by 21 percent when adjusted for inflation. And Congress is poised to cut the EPA’s budget yet again. Both House and Senate leadership are sticking to harmful sequestration caps in the spending bills they’re proposing, which will mean drastic cuts to many vital programs. States need more funding, not less, to protect residents from polluted air. Unless Congress does away with the sequestration caps, millions of low-income and other vulnerable Americans will continue to struggle for a breath of fresh air.