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DIRTY AIR A CAUSE OF DEATH FOR MORE THAN 9,300 CALIFORNIANS

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, May 16, 2002

OAKLAND, May 15, 2002 — Pollution from airborne soot and dust causes or contributes to the deaths of more Californians than traffic accidents, homicide and AIDS combined, according to a new report released today by Environmental Working Group.

EWG’s analysis of state data found that respiratory illnesses caused or made worse by microscopic particles of soot and dust – technically, particulate matter or PM – are responsible for more than 9,300 deaths, thousands of hospital visits, hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks and millions of missed work days each year. "Particle Civics: How Cleaner Air in California Will Save Lives and Save Money," available at www.ewg.org, not only details the public health impacts in each county in the state, but for the first time puts a price tag on the annual cost of particulate pollution.

"There’s an overwhelming scientific consensus that particulate pollution kills people," said Renee Sharp, EWG analyst and principal author of the report. "Cleaning up the air is as important to public health and safety as wearing seatbelts."

State scientists have proposed tougher new air pollution standards that would save about 6,500 lives and half a billion dollars a year, but they face strong opposition from a coalition of oil companies and automakers who have contributed more than $175,000 to Gov. Gray Davis’s re-election campaign. The Davis-appointed Air Resources Board will vote on the proposed standards next month, and the decision will be closely watched as the U.S. EPA prepares to set new federal particulate standards.

Particulate air pollution is most severe in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area and the San Joaquin Valley. In the Valley, agriculture is a significant source of particulates, but most agricultural activities are exempt from federal and state air pollution rules. Statewide, 55 of 58 counties have average annual particulate levels that exceed the proposed state standards.

EWG found:

  • Each year, particulate air pollution is responsible for more than 16,000 hospital or emergency room admissions, at an estimated health care cost of $132 million.
  • PM-related illnesses cause Californians to miss almost 5 million work days a year, a loss to the state’s economy of more than $880 million.
  • Cutting particulate pollution to levels recommended by state scientists will reduce PM-triggered deaths by at least 69 percent, asthma attacks by 57 percent, hospital visits by 56 percent and cases of chronic bronchitis by 58 percent.

EWG urges the Air Resources Board to adopt and rigorously enforce the standards recommended by state scientists. The exemption for agriculture should be eliminated.

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