According to Dr. Laura Harmacek and Dr. Brian O'Connor, pollution present in the air and then inhaled is capable of worsening our health and shortening our lives at an almost implausible rate. "This may seem like common sense to you. But for us, it is part of our scientific research and is what we are all about," they explain.
The science is straightforward and compelling. While companies emphasize the value of the products they create, the services they provide, or the employment they maintain, there is virtually no talk of the very real health consequences of their industrial pollution or the sacrifices our state makes when emissions are not regulated. We are oblivious to the serious health consequences for our family members and neighbors.
How does pollution affect communities?
Years of epidemiological studies have calculated the number of hospitalizations, poor health outcomes, and years of life lost as a result of populations' exposure to air pollution. Not to mention the increased risk of cancer from regular inhalation of recognized chemicals. At the molecular level, we know that exposure to these small pollutants causes considerable inflammation, not only in the lungs where they enter but also throughout the body. Because of the repeated inflammatory cycle caused by poor air quality, the immune system changes the way it responds to insults. Repeated exposures can reprogram the immune system, leading to chronic inflammatory diseases.
These health consequences affect all communities, but especially the most vulnerable, such as our youngest, oldest, sickest, and poorest neighbors. Those with respiratory disorders such as asthma and COPD are especially prone to the effects of air pollution, which can be particularly severe in areas where industrial emissions are prevalent.
Is regulation possible?
Currently, air pollution standards are set on a facility-by-facility basis, without taking into account the cumulative effects of "chemical cocktails" on community health, such as the effects of various combinations of atmospheric toxins generated by multiple sources in a given city. Surprisingly, air toxin limitations in facility licenses are almost always set without regard to the health effects on nearby communities. This needs to change to preserve the health of our residents, and it can be done with the present bill.
Some Colorado lawmakers in the U.S. are contemplating HB22-1244, which would begin to rein in these polluters by combining oversight with a more rigorous permitting procedure. These community-focused guidelines would do what pollution regulation should do: prioritize community health.