Friday, November 15, 2013

North Texas Physicians Fight for Cleaner Air

“Evidence is overwhelming that our high ozone levels are causing increasing numbers of children to develop asthma, and are contributing to the many asthma attacks, chronic lung disease exacerbations, and heart attacks we see every day in our emergency rooms, clinics, and hospitals,” said Robert Haley, MD, a Dallas internist and epidemiologist and director of the Division of Epidemiology at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

“A large body of medical research shows that more people of all ages develop respiratory illnesses and die prematurely in cities with high ozone levels, and [Dallas has] among the highest ozone levels in the country,” added Dr. Haley.

Motivated by what they believe are harmful power plants in Northeast Texas, the Dallas County Medical Society (DCMS) asked state leaders to take action to make the plants safer.

A Rice University report found that coal-fired plants in East Texas contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone and particulate matter, a mixture of substances including carbon-based particles, dust, and acid aerosols formed in the atmosphere by volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. In other words, they pollute the air. And three east Texas plants are shown to be among the top five emitters of mercury in the nation.

In August, Dr. Haley and his physician colleagues petitioned the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to require these three power plants meet current emission standards, a move that TMA says would make a significant difference in the health of the people of North Texas. “Physicians should think about all the patients they see with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations and all the children they treat who have frequent asthma exacerbations. These dirty power plants contribute to those and other health problems,” he said.

Though DCMS’s calls for stricter emissions standards brought attention to this important public health issue, late last month TCEQ rejected the society’s petition for tougher emissions controls. Still, physicians say the fight to protect patients’ health is far from over.

“The medical community of Dallas is now deeply aware of a problem,” Dr. Haley told The Dallas Morning News. “We’ve discovered this, we’ve studied it, and we’re here to stay.”

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