New US Energy Policy has Strong Implications for Respiratory Health

Obama’s new Clean Power Plan aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 32% over the next 15 years. While some still debate the effects of carbon dioxide levels on global warming, it is clear that this compound is detrimental to human health. CO2 causes an increase in the level of smog which can make lungs more susceptible to infection and cause asthma.

Coal supplied 37% of the electricity used in the US in 2012 and is the foremost producer of carbon emissions in the country. In addition to greenhouse gas emissions from coal power plants, these plants are the biggest industrial emitters of arsenic and mercury into the air according to the US National Library of Medicine. The EPA identified 187 hazardous air pollutants that pose a threat to human health and environment, and coal-fired power plants emit 84 of them.

Thus, limiting the use of coal power plants is likely to have the most significant effect on improving air pollution and consequently human health. The White House predicts that the Clean Power Plan will prevent:

  • 90,000 asthma attacks in children
  • 1,700 non-fatal heart attacks
  • Up to 3,600 premature deaths
  • 300,000 missed days at school and work

Air pollution’s detrimental effect on health is a serious problem around the world, especially since many countries do not rigorously regulate air pollution emissions. Excessive air pollution is often due to policies in energy, transport, industry, and waste management. The World Health Organization reported that 1 out of 8 deaths around the world were due to air pollution as of 2012:

  • 40% to stroke
  • 40% to ischemic heart disease
  • 11% to COPD

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