Greenhouse Gases and the EPA

We all know that greenhouse gases are horrible for the environment, so shouldn’t it be obvious that they’re bad for your health too? Well now, according to the EPA, this assumption has become a cold hard fact.

After being told back in April 2007 by the Supreme Court that greenhouse-gas emissions could be regulated under the Clean Air Act if the EPA determined whether or not they posed a threat to public health and welfare, the agency succeeded this past Friday in determining that yes, planet-warming greenhouse gases pose a danger to public health and welfare.

Still, passing White House review is just an early step in this process, but a good step nonetheless. Obviously the Obama administration is moving closer to efficiently and productively regulating carbon dioxide emissions, but how exactly regulation will take place and what industries will be most affected has yet to be covered. Surely though, cars and power plants will be at the top of the list in terms of seeing drastic change, especially since “coal-fired power plants alone account for 40 percent of emissions.” To learn more about the Supreme Court rulings and what next steps are being taken check out more of what writer Kate Sheppard has to say over at Grist.

As for the actual health problems that are relevant here, the EPA is looking at six major emissions. As H. Josef Hebert of the Associated Press says in his article, besides the obvious, carbon dioxide-the main product of burning fossil fuels-scientists believe methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydroflourocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) to be the most dangerous. Directly, such emissions can create devastating results. Andrei Tchernitchin, secretary of the Chilean Medical Association's Health Commission, supports that in Chile, "Santiago's air pollution is causing not only acute respiratory infections and an increase in premature mortality due to cardiovascular or pulmonary disease, but in the long term also chronic diseases such as lung cancer and persistent impairment of immune function hormone regulation." Read more about what Tchernitchin has to say here.

On a broader level, the World Health Organization believes these emissions to affect the public health in the following ways:

-Increasing frequencies of heatwaves: recent analyses show that human-induced climate change significantly increased the likelihood of the European summer heatwave of 2003.
-More variable precipitation patterns are likely to compromise the supply of freshwater, increasing risks of water-borne disease.
-Rising temperatures and variable precipitation are likely to decrease the production of staple foods in many of the poorest regions, increasing risks of malnutrition.
-Rising sea levels increase the risk of coastal flooding, and may necessitate population displacement. More than half of the world's population now lives within 60km of the sea. Some of the most vulnerable regions are the Nile delta in Egypt, the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta in Bangladesh, and many small islands, such as the Maldives, the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu.
-Changes in climate are likely to lengthen the transmission seasons of important vector-borne diseases, and to alter their geographic range, potentially bringing them to regions that lack population immunity and/or a strong public health infrastructure.
All in all, it looks like the US is in business for finding a sustainable way to regulate greenhouse gases and solutions for the health effects of these problems. Who knows, maybe this is just the beginning of an even bigger movement towards greener living, better health, and a better planet.