From Arthur B. Spell, MD; Jessica Schorr Saxe, MD; Daniel Neuspiel, MD, MPH; and Larry Raymond, MD, ScM, who are pediatricians or practice family medicine in Charlotte:
With temperatures now hitting 90 degrees, it’s clear that another long summer has arrived. This season brings an increased number of weather-related illnesses, especially in vulnerable populations like the very young and the elderly. In the past few years, pediatricians and family doctors have begun to see more patients suffering from heat-induced asthma attacks and increased illness from heat waves. As continued carbon pollution from power plants fuels the disruption of the climate, these kinds of ailments will only become more common.
We are writing as members of Medical Advocates for Healthy Air and we welcome the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to set the first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants. We already have safeguards in place for pollutants like mercury, soot and arsenic, but currently there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution emitted from power plants. Fueled largely by the burning of fossil fuels at these plants, our shifting climate has escalated the public health risks associated with the power sector to a dangerous level.
Children have immature lungs and immune systems, they breathe more rapidly than adults, and they spend more time outside. Anything in the air is delivered to their immature lungs in a higher amount than to adults, and with more immediate effects. We have known for a long time that ground level ozone precipitates asthma attacks, and there is data suggesting that ozone actually leads to the development of asthma. Ozone causes asthma attacks to be more severe, leading to higher medication needs, increased emergency room visits and hospitalization rates. Asthma is terrifying for sufferers, and it is expensive for all of us. Since ground level ozone is created in hot summer air, and our summers are getting hotter and longer, we expect that ozone pollution will become a bigger problem for Charlotte. Our region has in fact never attained current federal standards for ozone.
Additionally, as carbon builds in the atmosphere, public health officials highlight extreme heat as a major concern for North Carolinians. Extreme heat can cause dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat stroke and death. As temperatures rise, children – who spend more time exercising outdoors combined with limited fluid consumption – are at an increased risk for heat-related illness and death. And the elderly, often home alone or with substandard air conditioning, are also vulnerable.
Physicians commit their lives to protecting the health of their communities, and we feel a responsibility to actively support public policy designed to protect public health. The EPA’s plan to cap carbon pollution from power plants is the fastest way to tackle climate disruption and make the air healthier for our patients and our communities.