For the past 49 years the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) has taken a formal policy stance that has championed clean air, clean water and clean land as vital to public health.
The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to “protect human health and the environment” by “working to ensure that Americans have clean air, land and water, and by ensuring that national efforts to reduce environmental risks are based on the best available scientific information”. Toward that end, in 2014 the EPA proposed the Clean Power Plan in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. At the time of the adoption of Clean Power Plan in 2015 coal powered electrical plants emitted 71% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) from the electric power sector (1.3 billion metric tons of CO2). The best available scientific information informs us that greenhouse gases like CO2 are a major cause of climate change and its impact on public health, including drought, famine, flooding and other human caused catastrophes.
On February 1 of this year the EPA, under the leadership of Administrator Scott Pruitt, proposed repealing the Clean Power Plan and invited public comment. The AAFP released a letter to Administrator Pruitt urging that the Clean Power Plan not be repealed. The letter pointed out that repeal of the plan would lead to increased air pollution, and that there are vulnerable populations who would be placed at increased risk as a result, including children, the elderly, the poor, people with asthma and chronic lung disease, and minorities in the US. In addition the resulting increase in pollution will increases risks of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure as well as increased risk of death in the elderly. In short, clean air is a very important determinant of health. For example, 68% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal powered plant and they are hospitalized for asthma at 3 times the rate of white Americans. In addition, climate change leads to:
- Deteriorations in mental health
- Increase in vector borne illnesses (like Lyme disease)
- Food shortages
- Water shortages
Over 7 million deaths worldwide can be attributed to air pollution. In Maine, we are known as the tailpipe of the nation as the pollution from states to our south and west produce pollution which is then swept to us by the prevailing winds. You have experienced this with ozone and particulate matter warnings which, when bad enough, urge people with lung disease (including children with asthma) or chronic diseases to limit physical activity and stay inside. I’m proud that the AAFP has taken a strong public stand on this fundamental health issue and I full agree with their recommendation.