A Solution to Cancer-Causing Air Pollution… and What You Can Do to Help

October 30, 2013 | 11:27 am
Michelle Robinson
Former Contributor

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) labeled air pollution a human carcinogen, in the same category as tobacco and asbestos, and deemed it the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. While it wasn’t widely covered in the media, this finding — that air pollution causes cancer — is enormously relevant for the United States, particularly as the administration considers new regulations on vehicle pollution.

WHO’s causing cancer?

tier 3 air pollutionAs Kurt Straif of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) put it, “We now know that outdoor air pollution is not only a major risk to health in general, but also a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths.” Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatics at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, put a finer point on what this means: “You can choose not to drink or not to smoke, but you can’t control whether or not you’re exposed to air pollution.”

Far too many of us are exposed to — and contribute to — this dangerous pollution every day. One in three Americans live in areas that do not meet federal air quality standards, and passenger cars and trucks are a major culprit. In fact, passenger vehicles are the second largest emitters of nitrogen oxides (NOX) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — the primary pollutants that form smog — in the U.S. These vehicles emit more than half of all carbon monoxide pollution and contribute significantly to particulate matter emissions. The WHO announcement is a timely reminder that addressing vehicle pollution must be a priority for the federal regulators charged with protecting our health and air quality.

The Good News — Tier 3 is on its way

Here’s the good news — the EPA has developed a new rule to address vehicle pollution. Earlier this year, the EPA published a proposal to reduce smog-forming pollution from cars and trucks, known as the Tier 3 standards. These cleaner gasoline and vehicle standards will reduce air pollution to protect health and save lives, and create thousands of new jobs in an ailing economy. The sooner these standards are adopted the sooner we will see real pollution reductions, and that’s why it is critical that the Administration finalize Tier 3 as quickly as possible.

The EPA and the White House have many priorities on their plates, but few compare to Tier 3 when it comes to potential health and air quality benefits — and at such low cost. The standards will cut harmful emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds by approximately 80% from today’s fleet average. Additionally, vehicles would emit 70% less particulate matter, and toxic pollutants such as benzene would be reduced by nearly 40%. The Tier 3 program is expected to reduce the average gasoline sulfur concentration from 30 parts per million (ppm) to 10ppm. This decrease in sulfur will reduce pollution from all cars and trucks on the road by improving the performance of the emission control equipment under the hood.

Most importantly, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the proposed standards would prevent up to 2,400 premature deaths, 3,200 hospital admissions and 22,000 asthma attacks each year. By 2030, Tier 3 will result in up to $23 billion in annual health care savings.

The pen is mightier, and you can help!

The WHO finding on air pollution and the fact that EPA has proposed new tailpipe and fuel standards deserves more attention in the media, and we need to keep the pressure on to finalize the standards. You can help shine a light on these important developments by sending a letter to the editor (LTE) of your local newspaper with the talking points we’ve put together. Believe it or not, even in today’s digital media landscape, LTEs are still one of the most widely read aspects of the news media. Help us tell the story of the dangers of air pollution and the need to reduce emissions from cars and trucks by finalizing the new standards in the next few months.