Soot Safeguards Will Keep Us Healthy, Save Millions in Health Costs

On December 14, the White House is expected to release updated safeguards for soot and other fine particulate matter, requiring coal plants to cut back the amount of soot pollution they pump into our air. The regulations are modest, but would go a long way in making our communities healthier and safe.

Over the next four years, President Obama will have multiple opportunities to take real, meaningful action to stand up to polluters and defend public health. This is one of his first and best chances to do that, and we'll be watching closely to make sure we get the strong protections we need.

Soot sounds a little old-fashioned. Like something our great-grandparents might have dealt with, not something we need to be concerned about today. But in fact, soot is one of the most dangerous forms of pollution, and it's all too common.

Soot is released into our air by coal-fired power plants and cars and trucks, and it's nasty stuff. It contains a dangerous mix of metals, chemicals, and acid drops. Even at very low levels, soot is harmful to human health. When you inhale soot, it enters your bloodstream and is transported to your body's vital organs. Soot particles are so small that they can lodge deep within your lungs without being coughed or sneezed out. Scientists have found that exposure to soot causes heart attacks, strokes, asthma attacks, lung inflammation, cancer, reproductive and developmental harm--and even premature death.

It's definitely not something we want our kids breathing. But too many of them are, especially in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, where coal plants and polluting industries tend to operate, and where childhood asthma rates already far outpace the rest of the nation.

We know we can't continue to let coal and oil companies pass along their costs to our families in the form of lifelong health problems and burdensome medical bills. The EPA estimates that even the modest reduction in soot pollution that they've proposed will save Americans as much as $88 million a year in healthcare-related costs. And we can't waste any more time.

Protecting our kids' lungs from pollution is the right thing to do. So is switching to a clean energy economy. If we want the next generation to face a healthy, prosperous future, it's our only choice. But as we move into a clean energy economy, we will face tough questions about how to take care of the workers and communities who for generations have relied on jobs in the coal industry. We can't pretend that the transition to newer, cleaner forms of energy won't affect these people. It will. They're our neighbors, and they're some of the hardest working Americans around. We need to look out for them. That doesn't mean we should slow our progress towards clean energy, or neglect lifesaving regulations like soot protections. But it does mean we have to work hard to find a way to move forward together.

Each day we delay enacting better protections against soot and other pollution, our air gets dirtier and more Americans get sick. Fortunately, more and more people are catching on. In fact, a recent poll by the American Lung Association shows very strong support for regulating soot, especially among African American and Latino voters.

These safeguards are long overdue. They're key to protecting public health, especially for our most vulnerable Americans. Finalizing soot regulations now would not only show that President Obama is serious about keeping our air and water clean--it would save us millions on healthcare costs, and would prevent thousands of Americans from suffering needlessly--even dying--as the result of unchecked pollution.

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