Respiratory Health Association Statement on Final U.S. EPA PM2.5 National Ambient Air Quality Standard Announcement

February 7, 2024 – Chicago, IL – Respiratory Health Association (RHA) applauds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to significantly tighten the national ambient air quality standard for fine particulate matter (commonly called “soot”). As a respiratory irritant, fine particle pollution increases the number of asthma attacks, emergency room visits, respiratory hospitalizations, and premature deaths. The health standard finalized by the Agency recognizes what scientists have been saying for years– particle pollution is harmful to human health even at low concentrations.

The EPA’s action is also important for health equity. Fine particle pollution disproportionately impacts minority communities.  Research has shown that U.S. racial and ethnic minorities, as well as lower-income groups, are at a higher risk of premature death from exposure to PM2.5 air pollution. The Agency’s decision will result in fewer people from underserved communities dying from breathing air pollution, in a portion of the country where the pollution levels are consistently among the highest.

“It has been an 11-year struggle to set soot pollution standards that adequately protect human health based on science,” said Brian Urbaszewski, RHA Director of Environmental Health Programs. “The decision finalized today will save over 4,000 lives a year and begin to reduce the disproportionate air pollution burden borne by communities of color.”

However, the standard chosen still falls short of the levels supported by health and medical groups, including RHA. The EPA’s own Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) shows that lowering the annual standard further would prevent 9,200 premature deaths, compared to 4,500 premature deaths with the standard announced today.

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About Respiratory Health Association

RHA has been a local public health leader in Chicago since 1906. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people live better through education, research, and policy change. To learn more, visit www.resphealth.org.

Be Mindful of Air Pollution from Gas Stoves on Thanksgiving

During the Thanksgiving holiday, Americans eat turkey, take naps, and watch sports. They probably aren’t thinking about how much they use their kitchen stove to cook a holiday meal – but they should.

If you’re one of the over 79% of Illinoisans who cook with gas, you should know that it’s the biggest source of air pollution inside your home. The dangerous fumes it emits will build up inside the home over the course of the day. In fact, Thanksgiving might be the worst home indoor air quality day.

Burning gas creates deadly fine particulate matter, a pollutant the EPA says is more dangerous than they previously thought based on peer-reviewed scientific research published over the last several years. Using cooking gas also creates nitrogen dioxide gas as a byproduct of combustion, and it’s a powerful lung irritant and asthma trigger. One study published in 2022 found gas stoves might explain over 20% of asthma cases in Illinois.

So, if you’re the one cooking for the crowd this year, what can you do to protect yourself and all those house guests?

  • Use the vent fan. If the hood vent fan over your stove sucks the fumes and exhausts them outside your home whenever the stove is on, use it while you are cooking. It won’t get rid of all the pollution, but it will definitely reduce the pollution you breathe.
  • Open a window. Many vent hoods just capture grease and circulate air back into the kitchen. Those won’t do anything at all to reduce the dangerous gases and microscopic particles coming out of your stove. In that case, open a window to let some fresh air in and allow the indoor pollution to escape.

All of the other home gas appliances, such as the furnace, water heater, and dryer, are all vented to the outside for a reason.

In the longer term, you might want to explore options for replacing your gas stove. Soon states will be offering large rebates to help people replace gas appliances with safer, cleaner, and more efficient electric alternatives. Those programs will include rebates of up to $840 for a cool-to-the-touch electric induction stove or cooktop. Additional rebates are available for needed electrical work if you don’t have an outlet for an electric stove. Utilities like ComEd currently offer a $100 rebate for an electric induction stove.

Whichever ways you choose to celebrate, we hope you have a safe and healthy holiday!

RHA and Partners Awarded Federal Grant to Improve Air Quality by Reducing Transportation Emissions

CHICAGO – Respiratory Health Association (RHA), in partnership with ComEd, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the Argonne and Oak Ridge national laboratories, announced it has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to receive one of just seven awards made nationally through the federal Clean Energy to Communities (C2C) initiative.

The $500,000 federal award will support regional efforts to understand and inform strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost the adoption of all-electric transportation options. Over the next three years, grant partners will conduct research and modeling to better understand the types and the scale of action needed to lower carbon emissions in the transportation sector.

“Reducing air pollution from motor vehicles will benefit everyone who breathes—not just people living with asthma and other chronic lung diseases,” said Joel Africk, President and CEO of Respiratory Health Association. “The positive impact of this project will be felt throughout the Midwest, and particularly in poorer communities where vehicular traffic is disproportionately heavy.”

Nationwide, transportation is now the largest single source of planet-warming gases, and transportation accounts for 32% of northeastern Illinois’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, further complicated by the Chicago region’s role as a freight and logistics hub. Recent studies reveal that the transition to electric vehicles in Illinois has the potential to provide significant health benefits, with RHA finding as many as 400 premature deaths in Illinois each year due to air pollution from diesel engine emissions alone.

Learn more about the C2C award partnership.

Respiratory Health Association Statement on EPA Decision to Delay Changes to Ozone Health Standard

August 21, 2023 – Chicago, IL – Under the guise of ‘needs more study’ the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today made a decision that ensures Americans will continue to breathe more dangerous ozone smog for many years to come. Rather than proposing a tighter ozone health standard early next year as expected, it has now halted any improvement and deferred further action until 2025 or later.

Scientists officially advising EPA on its air standards made it abundantly clear, based on scientific information that was available years ago, that the current health standard is too weak, does not protect vulnerable groups, and should be strengthened to 55-60 parts per billion (ppb) from the current 70 ppb.

“EPA’s decision will hurt the millions of people who disproportionately suffer the health impacts of poor air quality,” said Joel Africk, RHA President and CEO. “Respiratory Health Association will continue to fight for healthy lungs and clean air for all, especially for the young, seniors, and people living with lung and heart disease and other chronic medical conditions.”

Illinois records ozone smog levels at 33 locations around the state. Even using the inadequate existing ozone health standard set back in 2015, all of those air quality monitoring stations have seen multiple days this year where caustic ozone gas levels exceeded national health standards. Some monitoring stations in the Chicago region saw 20 such days so far this summer.

EPA is also reviewing the adequacy of the fine particle “soot” health standard and, barring any reversal there, is still expected to announce a final decision by the end of this year on the need to reduce deadly fine particles in the air from fossil fuel power plants and motor vehicles.

What Kind of Air Purifier Should I Buy for My Home?

The number of poor air quality days is increasing. Hopefully, you’ve already taken a few initial steps such as keeping the windows closed, making sure your AC unit doesn’t bring in outside air but recirculates air inside the home, and wearing an N95 mask.

Another option is the DIY Corsi-Rosenthal filter, an excellent and effective option for someone on a budget.

It’s a good idea to run an air purifier in your home on days when the outside air is unhealthy, but which air purifier is best? With hundreds of options to choose from, the choice can be difficult. Here are a few guidelines to look for when purchasing an air purifier for your home:

Look for an air purifier with a HEPA filter.

According to the US EPA, HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air [filter.] This filter can trap the tiny particles that we might otherwise breathe in and get trapped in our lungs and other parts of the body. HEPA filters, like all air filters, periodically need to be replaced, so make sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions.

Check that the air purifier is CARB-certified.

California passed a law in 2010 that requires all indoor air cleaning devices to be certified by CARB, (the California Air Resources Board). According to CARB’s website, for a product “to be certified, all air cleaners must be tested for electrical safety. Electronic air cleaners must also be tested for ozone emissions and meet an ozone emission concentration limit of 0.050 parts per million (50 ppb).” Ozone is a key component of summertime smog. You don’t want a device that cleans up one pollutant by replacing it with another lung-irritating pollutant! To ensure the product is CARB-certified, look for this label on the device’s packaging:

Find an air purifier that is a suitable size and has an appropriate clean air delivery rate (CADR) for your space.

You’ll want to find an air purifier that is sized for the room you plan to use it. Check the square footage of the room you want to place it and the ceiling height, before you start researching products. This way, you won’t overspend on a large unit if a smaller one will fit your space.

If you get a smaller model place it where you spend the most time, such as a bedroom.

You can also check the clean air delivery rate (CADR) to ensure the unit can process all the air in the room on a regular basis. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers recommends using the two-thirds rule: “The CADR of your air cleaner should be equal to at least two-thirds of the room’s area…If your ceilings are higher than 8 feet, an air cleaner rated for a larger room will be necessary.”

Don’t forget the rebate!

ComEd of Illinois offers rebates on Energy Star appliances and home products, including air filters. Check if the air purifier you are interested in purchasing qualifies for a rebate.

 

 

 

 

Six Ways to Keep Your Lungs Healthy

keep your lungs health

October is National Healthy Lung Month, a great time to raise awareness about lung disease and talk about ways you can keep your lungs healthy.

It’s easy to take your lung health for granted until you get sick or have trouble breathing. Here are a few ways you can protect your lungs:

  • Talk to your doctor about any changes in your lung health or symptoms like coughing or difficulty breathing.
  • Ask your doctor if a lung cancer screening is right for you.
  • If you smoke, consider quitting. After quitting, you gain health benefits such as improved lung function and improved circulation. Over time, your risk for certain lung diseases will also go down.
  • Prevent infection and stay healthy by getting a COVID-19 vaccination and an annual flu shot.
  • Stay active and exercise regularly. Talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.
  • If you live with lung diseases like asthma or COPD, get to know the ways you can manage your condition.

Want to learn more about ways you can keep your lungs healthy? Click here to explore other resources.

Illinois Climate and Equitable Jobs Act Becomes Law

For Immediate Release

September 15, 2021

Contact: Erica Krutsch

ekrutsch@resphealth.org

Respiratory Health Association Applauds Signing of Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (Senate Bill 2408)

 Legislation invests in clean energy, electric transportation in historic win for clean air and lung health

CHICAGO –After more than three years of advocacy and grassroots organizing by Respiratory Health Association (RHA) and partners across the state in the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, today Governor Pritzker signed into law a nation-leading equitable climate bill.

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act sets Illinois on the path to 100% clean energy by 2050 and commits millions of dollars to quickly accelerate transportation electrification in Illinois.

Following the Governor’s signing, RHA released the following statement:

“Respiratory Health Association applauds Governor Pritzker on today’s signing of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act. Illinois is now poised to lead the nation in building a strong, sustainable future with an energy plan that addresses the public health threat of pollution from fossil fuels, takes steps to support communities most impacted by poor air quality, and creates quality jobs.

The energy and transportation industries are the leading contributors to air pollution, including particulate matter pollution and smog. Not only do these emissions accelerate climate change, but they have a significant impact on our health.

More than 137 million Americans live in communities, both cities and rural areas, with unhealthy levels of air pollution. Recent research indicates that worldwide more than eight million people died in 2018 from fossil fuel pollution. Air pollution is also linked to increased risk for lung cancer and chronic lung diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

We would like to thank Governor Pritzker, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, Senate President Don Harmon and other legislative champions in addition to thousands of diverse advocates who have joined us in advocating for clean energy, clean air, and healthy lungs for more than three years.”

Protect Your Lungs from Summer Air Pollution

The summer months generally have more days with poor air quality. Ground-level ozone (smog) levels increase due to warmer temperatures, which can lead to difficulty breathing. This summer has been no different — and has also featured additional air pollution from wildfires in the U.S.

Poor air quality can be bad for anyone. However, it is especially concerning for vulnerable populations like children, the elderly, and people living with lung disease. Periodically, the Illinois EPA will call an air pollution action day to indicate particularly bad air quality. On these days labeled “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” people included should try to avoid strenuous physical activity, stay cool inside, and hydrate.

Everyone can take steps on action days to reduce air pollution and protect people in their communities, including:

  • Limit driving if you can — consider walking, biking, or working from home if possible.
  • If driving, avoid idling, and try to run errands after 7 pm when sunlight is not as strong.
  • Avoid using gasoline-powered equipment.
  • Set your thermostat up 2 degrees to limit air pollution from fossil fuel power plants.
  • Turn off and unplug electronics not in use.
  • Do not burn leaves and other yard waste.
  • Sign-up to receive air quality forecasts via email at enviroflash.info.

Keep an eye on local news and weather alerts or visit airnow.gov, which also provides daily air quality updates by location. As a lung health advocate, sharing this information can help everyone breathe easier when summer air pollution increases.

A Recap of 2021 Lung Health Advocacy Victories

Together we made great progress toward healthy lungs and clean air for all during the spring legislative session. With your support, we advocated new laws and changes to benefit the health of everyone in Illinois. Join us in celebrating these victories,:

  • RHA worked with the Illinois Department of Public Health on an advocacy effort to increase statewide funding for asthma education in Illinois. These efforts resulted in an additional $1 million in funding for school-based asthma education.
  • SB2294 will encourage more Illinoisans to quit smoking by providing expanded Medicaid coverage for FDA approved quit smoking medications, tobacco counseling services, and telephone-based quit smoking services provided through the Illinois Tobacco Quitline.
  • HB3202 will add e-cigarettes and other vapor devices to the state’s health education programs in schools.
  • SB512 will prohibit companies from marketing e-cigarettes to minors and from running misleading e-cigarette advertising.
  • HB1779 will provide easier access to care for people living with cancer by not requiring prior authorization for biomarker testing, which can guide health professionals in developing a treatment plan.
  • HB1745 will reduce out-of-pocket costs for Illinoisans’ prescription drugs, like asthma and COPD medications, by requiring insurance companies to offer plans with predictable co-pays or cap these amounts.
  • HB3498 makes innovative telehealth approaches permanent, so Illinoisans can continue to access critically needed care beyond the pandemic regardless of transportation, scheduling barriers – and with less stigma or risk to safety.
  • SB2563 expands vehicle emissions testing by permitting owners of vehicle service companies to operate an official portable emissions testing company – a win for clean air.
  • SB2133 focuses on health equity by ensuring the state reports data related to race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disabilities for public health indicators, such as COVID infections.

Want to get involved with our advocacy efforts and help promote laws that will benefit everyone’s health? Learn more and sign-up to receive our emails here.

Building a Healthy Future Together

Your support made it possible for us to have an impact in communities throughout Illinois and beyond this past year. Together we faced new challenges, found new solutions, and made progress toward a future free of lung disease. As we come to the end of our program year, we want to share some of our work to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people with lung disease live better lives.

Project STRENGTH for COPD

Thanks to support from the Learn More Breathe BetterSM program of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, we created resources that provide information on how people with COPD can live well at home. Each informational packet aims at keeping people with COPD healthy and provides guidance to help build exercise routines, manage breathing, put together a nutrition plan, and more.

Improving Our Asthma Programs

We collaborated with University of Chicago to conduct a formal evaluation of our two asthma programs – Fight Asthma Now© and Asthma Management. The evaluation showed kids and parents participating in these programs learned a lot about asthma triggers, medications, and staying healthy. The results were even better with repeat sessions.

A New Approach to Quitting

We began testing a new format for our Courage to Quit® program that helps people stop smoking. The new “rolling” model allows people to attend group Courage to Quit sessions with more flexibility, which increases accessibility and makes the program work for more people. We’re pushing forward to expand this idea and increase access to the program in the coming year.

Educational Webinar Series

In August, we launched a new educational webinar series. Lung health content reached nearly 1,000 people on important topics like COVID vaccines, women’s lung health, lung cancer screening, and environmental justice issues. Because the programs were entirely online, we were able to reach a national audience.

Funding Asthma Education

Asthma is the No. 1 cause of school absences due to chronic illness. RHA led an advocacy effort to increase statewide funding for asthma education in Illinois. These efforts resulted in an additional $1 million in funding for school-based asthma education.

group participating in event to help people living with lung disease

Lung Cancer & COPD Research

We awarded two grants to fund promising research into lung cancer and one new COPD research award. One of the lung cancer studies is looking at a specific gene mutation that can cause cancer even in non-smokers. Our annual Solovy Award for Advancement in COPD was awarded to support the research efforts of Dr. Nadia Hansel at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

School-based Asthma Policy Study

We conducted a study to see how well school staff understand current rules about asthma inhalers in schools. We found that 60% of school nurses in Illinois surveyed didn’t fully understand current rules that allow students to bring and use their inhalers in school. We will now focus some of our program resources on educating school health staff to better serve students.

Investing in Clean Air

In April, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency released a plan to invest $88.6 million in electric public transportation, school buses, and charging infrastructure for electric cars. For years RHA has given testimony and fought for money to support clean transportation because transportation is a leading cause of air pollution. This investment is a huge victory for clean air.

woman with stat about helping people with lung disease

Women’s Lung Health Research

Thanks to amazing growth in our Catch Your Breath® women’s lung health initiative, we were able to partner with CHEST Foundation to fund a new research award addressing gender disparities in lung disease. Lung disease impacts one in every six US women, and this award will increase research into the unique aspects of lung disease in women.

To learn more about the educational programs, research, and policy work your contributions support, as well as to receive updates on our work toward healthy lungs and clean air for all, sign-up for our monthly newsletter.

If you’d like to support RHA’s work to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people living with lung disease, you can donate here.