Coleman-Adebayo and Charlene Smith
Washington, D.C. -- There is a disease that discriminates the way that big business does: asthma. Since 2001, asthma has risen sharply and is in more "children than adults, women than men, and blacks than whites." according to the Centers for Disease Control.
It found that from 2001--2009, 24.6 million additional people were reported with asthma. "A rising trend in asthma prevalence was observed for non-Hispanic black children (11.4% to 17.0%), non-Hispanic white women (8.9% to 10.1%), and non-Hispanic black men (4.7% to 6.4%)."
It's getting colder and that means hospital emergency rooms are already filling with coughing, blue-faced asthma sufferers battling to breathe. And that will cost society - around $50.1bn a year for medical expenses -- according to the C.D.C. Add to that, $3.8 billion in missed school or work hours, and $2.1 billion for 12,000 premature deaths (it's amazing that a cost can be put on a life, but auditors can). Medical expenses associated with asthma were $3,259 per person per year during 2002--2007. And the biggest toll is among African-Americans.
The rapid rise in asthma is because our air is getting dirtier; there are too many cars, trucks and factories belching out fumes. And that puts a strain on the fragile lungs of children in particular.
It should surprise us then that President Barack Obama last month asked the Environmental Protection Agency to postpone changes to the Clean Air Act* that should have protected Americans from the toxic fumes from mercury-emitting power plants. It would have also introduced the first-ever carbon pollution standards for cars and trucks in the four-decade-old law . The U.S. is lagging the world with these laws; even very many developing nations have these standards for cars and trucks.
The Republicans hailed this step. House of Representatives energy and commerce committee chairman Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan, and energy and power subcommittee chairman Ed Whitfield of Kentucky were reported as saying that the E.P.A.'s proposed ozone rule would impose annual costs of as much as $90 billion and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. They don't say how it will damage jobs; in other countries adding anti-pollution devices to vehicles increased jobs.
And the E.P.A. has already told us that reducing air pollution from heavy-duty trucks, the Cross-state Air Pollution Rule and national standards for mercury and other toxic pollutants, have added $40 billion annually to state coffers. But I guess the difference is whether the commitment from the President is to cut government debt or add to corporate profits. The difference is whether we save lives or believe that some are dispensable -- because it is also clear from C.D.C. research that not all of those who have asthma can afford the medications that can control it and prevent death.
League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski said in a statement: "The Obama administration is caving to big polluters at the expense of protecting the air we breathe. This is a huge win for corporate polluters and huge loss for public health."
There will be a "reconsideration of the ozone standard in 2013," Mr. Obama said by which time he will be either out of the Oval Office, or back in it and no doubt, backtracking on promises yet again.
We don't have enough laws to protect the sick, but we have enough good people with conscience, spirit and bravery to do the right thing. Even when political leaders fail us.
* More CDC facts: Prevalence among children (persons aged <18 years) was 9.6%, and was highest among poor children (13.5%) and among non-Hispanic black children (17.0%). Prevalence among adults was 7.7%, and was greatest in women (9.7%) and in adults who were poor (10.6%). More uninsured persons with asthma than insured could not afford to buy prescription medications (40.3% versus 11.5%), and fewer uninsured persons reported seeing or talking with a primary-care physician (58.8% versus 85.6%) or specialist (19.5% versus 36.9%). Only about one third of children or adults were using long-term control medicine such as inhaled corticosteroids at the time of the survey.