by A.J. Higgins
MPBN Radio news story
A new coalition of public health advocates is urging Maine’s two U.S. senators to take a stand against what they describe as a full-scale assault on the Clean Air Act by powerful corporate interests. The Maine Healthy Air Coalition says that rather than weaken the federal laws that protect air quality, Congress should be taking steps to strengthen regulations. Some health professionals claim that Maine’s geographic location and the national rise in toxic air pollution are resulting in alarming increases in asthma among children.
It’s difficult for Mark Conley of Raymond not to become emotional when he thinks about the daily struggle his son Jake wages with asthma. Conley says Jake’s lungs are like the canary in the coal mine when it comes to providing advance warning of deteriorating air quality in Maine. And those attacks take a heavy emotional and financial toll on the Conley family.
“When Jake’s having a problem, a lot of times we have to go to a specialist. Healthy air means healthy kids and lower costs for all of us. We need to do everything we can to protect my son,” he said, fighting back tears.
Conley joined several of the state’s leading health advocates at a State House press conference to announce the formation of the Maine Healthy Air Coalition, a group of 26 agencies that are sounding the alarm over federal legislation they say would weaken the Clean Air Act.
Conley says Congress needs to do more to protect Maine and its children. “The current standards are not as protective of health as they should be, and from what I’ve heard from others, the best scientists in the country are telling us the same thing. So why aren’t we doing something about it?”
“Maine is particularly vulnerable to air pollution because of prevailing winds that convey pollution from the industrial Midwest,” says Dr. Norma Dreyfus, a Lincoln County pediatrician who represents the Maine Medical Association.
Dreyfus says the jet stream carries pollution here from the Midwest, a situation that’s earned Maine a reputation as the “nation’s tail pipe.” “Not only does the clean air act need to be enforced immediately, but it needs to be strengthenend,” Dreyfus says.
And while it’s not the sole factor influencing rising cases of asthma in the state, Dreyfus says air pollution is definitely linked to lung disease. “True, air pollution may or may not be the primary cause of asthma, but it worsens the symptoms that are present, and air pollution is something we can, and should, do something about,” she said.
Dreyfus says there’s also an economic price to pay for pollution in lost work time and higher health care costs.
And asthma’s not the only concern, according to Peter Iwanowicz, assistant vice-president for the American Lung Association. He says the health impacts from polluted air are felt across the spectrum of society.
“More toxics in our air means more disease,” he said. “It means more asthma attacks, more premature deaths, more seniors requiring hospitalization or emergency department visits. It means more heart attacks, more strokes, more cases of lung cancer.
Ed Miller, a New England regional representative of the American Lung Assoication, says the Maine coalition will join with other groups to encourage Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to oppose efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act.
Both senators, he said, have in the past been supportive of the protecting Maine’s air quality–but Miller adds that the senators face a continual assault on clean air protections by corporate interests.
“It would not be overstating it to say that the battle over healthy air is this century’s war on tobacco,” Miller said. “There are striking similarities: We’re talking about powerful and well-funded special interest groups that don’t want to take responsibility for the health and economic consequences and repercussions of their products. They will do and say anything to protect their bottom line.”
Former Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie is considered to be the father of the Clean Air Act, and Miller and others want to ensure than Maine maintains a leading role in air quality protection.