Doctors push for curbs on traffic pollution

A group of doctors is urging the Obama administration to push through rules that would reduce traffic pollution in an effort to prevent lung disease, asthma attacks and other cardiovascular problems.

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In a letter to the White House, the American Lung Association asked the Obama administration to adopt the stronger gasoline and vehicle emissions standards that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been considering for nearly a year.

More than 500 doctors and other health professionals from the American Lung Association signed the letter. They said the rules would save thousands of lives each year.

"Unhealthy air imposes the risk of serious health impacts on millions of Americans," the American Lung Association wrote in the letter, sent Wednesday. "We see those impacts on our patients' health, in public health, and in our research."

The EPA estimates that such a rule would cost industry nearly $2 billion in compliance costs by 2017, with that amount ticking up to $3.4 billion by 2025.

The agency proposed Tier 3 Vehicle Emissions and Fuel Standards in May 2013, but has yet to issue the final rule as it waits for approval from the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The requirements would lower the level of sulfur in gasoline and reduce tailpipe emissions for passenger cars, pickup trucks and some heavy-duty vehicles.

The proposed rule would go into effect in 2017 and be gradually phased in through 2025, but doctors are urging the Obama administration to enact the standards as soon as possible.

Doctors say the health benefits of reducing air pollution outweigh the costs. The EPA said the rule would benefit more than 158 million people who are exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution on a consistent basis.

"We know the burden of air pollution is not equal," the American Lung Association wrote. "Children, whose lungs continue to grow into adolescence, face a higher risk from the effects of air pollution. Adults 65 and older, whose bodies are less able to defend against the effects of air pollution, are placed under greater strain."

The group said low-income families and minorities are affected disproportionately by air pollution because they are more likely to live near busy roadways.

"Cleaner gasoline will reduce emissions equal to removing the emissions from 33 million cars off the road, or about as many cars as there are in Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington," the American Lung Association wrote.