Ensuring Children Can Breathe Clean Air

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Ensuring Children Can Breathe Clean Air


More than 40 years ago, Congress passed the Clean Air Act, giving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate air pollution. Although there have been significant improvements made to protect children's health, the Academy is urging further federal action to ensure the air children breathe is safe and clean.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has the authority to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for six so-called "criteria pollutants": ozone; particulate matter; carbon monoxide; nitrogen oxides; sulfur dioxide; and lead. These air pollutants have a greater impact on a child than on an adult not only due to their smaller size, but because of the nature of their growing bodies and minds. A bad air day exacerbates allergies and asthma, can impair lung function in children, and limits children's access to healthy outdoor physical activity. EPA's has significant authority in regulating these six pollutants because the Clean Air Act requires EPA to periodically update and calibrate the standards for each one to protect the public health, based on the existing research.

The EPA updated Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards under the Clean Air Act in an effort to strengthen the prior ozone standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb), a level that contributes to serious lifelong health consequences. The new standard is lowering the level of allowable ozone pollution to 70 ppb. The AAP supports EPA's efforts to reduce the ozone pollution limits, as the evidence is clear the current standard does not protect public health. In order to be most protective of children's health and to meet the margin of safety set by the Clean Air Act, the AAP has joined several leading health organizations in urging the EPA to lower the level of allowable ozone pollution to 60 ppb.

As the regulatory process continues, the AAP will continue to urge for the strongest standards possible to protect child health.

Additional Resources:

  • A joint op-ed by AAP President Sandra G. Hassink, MD, FAAP, and President and CEO of the American Lung Association Harold Wimmer, "The right to breathe: Why we need clean air for our children"
  • An op-ed published in The Houston Chronicle by Susan Pacheco, MD, FAAP, AAP Council on Environmental Health member
  • An op-ed by pediatric resident Jamie Zakkak, MD, and Jennifer Kaufer, Healthy Air Coalition Coordinator for the American Lung Association in Virginia, "Fairfax County's children deserve to breathe clean air"
  • A blog post published in The Hill by Samantha Ahdoot, MD, FAAP, member of the AAP Council on Environmental Health
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