Cleaner Air Really Does Mean a Longer Life

New research shows we live longer thanks to regulations that have cleaned up air pollution over the last few decades.

Americans who love to grumble about regulations now have some they can cheer about.

The New England Journal of Medicine is reporting that we now live an extra five months, thanks to regulations that have cleaned up air pollution over the last few decades.

By breathing air cleansed of particulates, the federally-funded study said, Americans in 51 cities are enjoying those extra months -- and people in the most-polluted cities are getting 10 months of bonus life.

"It shows that our efforts as a country to control air pollution have been well worth the expense," said Dr. Joel Kaufman, a University of Washington expert on environmental health.

We heartily agree with Dr. Kaufman.

Protecting the air from invisible particulate pollution isn't terribly sexy work. Most of the time it's hard to inspire the public to join the fight against this type of air pollution. A smoke-belching factory, coal-fired power plant or mercury producing cement plant next door generates lots of public outrage. But, when it comes to particles much smaller than the width of a human hair, most folks will say, "Out of sight, out of mind."

Environmental organizations have been working with public health groups for years to rid our air of tiny pollution particles. We're heartened, but not surprised, at the new confirmation that these efforts now show scientifically measurable results.

But the battle is far from over.

Many old coal-fired power plants still pollute the air and new pollution sources are popping up all around. For example, factory farms can emit as much air pollution as a power plant, but they remain unregulated.

Importantly, air pollution continues to hurt the most vulnerable.

In the Central Valley of California, elderly residents breathe dirty air and far too many children tote asthma inhalers to school. Meanwhile, bureaucrats make excuses about why they can't fully enforce the law.

Sure it costs a little more to clean the air, but the savings to society are huge. Hospitalizations, sick days off work and kids out of school cost society far more than cleaning up air pollution. Not doing so is penny wise but pound foolish. Let's quit being foolish.

Fortunately, we are no longer saddled with the Bush administration's anti-environmental agenda which tried to ram through a host of rule changes and exemptions for industry that tie the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency. Public interest groups overturned many of those in court, but unfortunately, some of those loopholes are still in place.

The Obama administration has a strong mandate to restore strong clean air standards and, armed with the results of this new study, should do so immediately. The new administration can start by taking a good look at mega-dairies, oil and gas drilling operations, chemical plants, refineries, paper mills and metal smelters, all of which are still dumping pollution into the air we breathe.

Cleaning the air isn't just good for our economy, it's good for ourselves, especially those among us who want to breathe a few months longer than their parents did.


Trip Van Noppen is the president of Earthjustice.
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