Out of Breath: Health Effects from Ozone in Eastern United States

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Hotline, Fall 1999

The following are comments made by Marie Kocoshis, GASP President, on October 5, 1999 at a press conference to announce the release of the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group report, Out of Breath.

What makes this report such compelling news is that it is based on 13 comprehensive peer-reviewed studies–this report pooled data in order to provide an estimate of hospital admissions for respiratory diseases that can be directly linked to ozone or urban smog. The news is not good! That number of hospital respiratory admissions for PA each year, 3200, is unacceptably high. In addition to real medical costs associated with a hospital stay (which may or may not be covered by your health insurance) there are other costs, one such being lost days of work–this is the kind of expense that working people in Allegheny County cannot afford. Reductions in NOx, nitrogen oxides ( a key ingredient in formation of smog), are imperative, and we’re calling for reductions from the 2 main sources of NOx–old coal-burning power plants and cars–a whopping 30% of all NOx in the country comes from cars and 26% from power plants.

With the advent of deregulation of the electric utility industry in PA, we have seen and will continue to see many changes, not all of them good! For example, we have seen the drive for the bottom line, and cost is in the driver’s seat–not public health! Last week, Pittsburgh saw the sale of Duquesne Light’s power generating plants. That sale included 2 plants that have been mothballed for many years; but the new owner, Orion, could bring them back on line and put even more smog-forming pollution into the air for us to breathe. Some of these old plants are operating with a loophole in the 1970 Clean Air Act that allows them to continue operating with fewer pollution controls than those required of newer plants.

Speaking of loopholes, light trucks and SUVs are also benefitting from a loophole, and our health is suffering because we are subjected to higher ozone levels. Both the auto industry and the electric utilities have to take responsibility here and do their part–reduce smog-forming emissions and protect public health. The alarming health statistics contained in this report should be evidence enough to motivate them to do the right thing.