New Emission Plan Could Exacerbate Asthma and Lead to Premature Deaths

Lost school and work days expected if the Affordable Clean Energy plan is passed.

In a report released Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) projects that its new proposal could result in 470 to 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030. The plan, called the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE), would supplant the 2015 Clean Power Plan (CPP), which the EPA proposed to repeal earlier this year.

Calling the CPP “overly prescriptive and burdensome,” in a news release, the EPA says that the ACE would replace federal regulations and allow individual states to create and police emission standards for coal-fired power plants.

In the almost 300-page report, the EPA detailed the potential implications of the new plan in terms of air quality, human health, employment, and economic impact. According to the agency’s own projections, the proposed plan is expected to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and inflate levels of “certain pollutants” in the atmosphere that adversely affect human health as compared with the previous projections made for the CPP.

In addition to premature deaths, the EPA estimates the rise in pollutants could trigger up to 120,000 asthma attacks and 96,000 new cases of exacerbated asthma by 2030. The pollution-related health issues could result in 48,000 lost work days and 140,000 missed school days per year, according to projections.

Any way you slice it, this isn’t good news for people with asthma, says Angel Waldron, a consumer health advocate with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).“Air pollution is a major trigger for them,” she says. “Coal emissions can wreak havoc on people with asthma.” The new plan would roll back the standards that have helped reduce air pollution resulting from the energy industry, says Waldron. “We are very concerned for our patients, and that’s why we have joined the American Lung Association (ALA), along with other medical groups, in encouraging the EPA to not move forward with the ACE. We believe the CPP is more suitable for the health of our patients.”

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It’s problematic to let each state decide what its emission standards will be, says Waldron. “If one state has air pollution, it can easily travel to a nearby state,” she says, citing “asthma belts” as an example of that phenomenon. “We publish an annual research report called Asthma Capitals, where we find the most-challenging places to live in the United States,” says Waldron. “There are two hot spots. One is the Ohio/Lake Erie (in Pennsylvania) belt, where there are a lot of steel mills and coal mines, and the other is the mid-Atlantic/Northeast corridor, which encompasses parts of three different states: Virginia, Delaware, and New Jersey. Air pollution can travel so easily, we really need to have regulations across the board to regulate fossil-fuel emissions,” she says.

You can try to reduce the impact of air pollutants on your health. If you live in an unhealthy zone you should wear a mask that’s rated an N95 or N100, says Waldron. “It looks like the mask that our medical providers wear, but it has an added filter in the front that will prevent any of those particulates from gaining access to your lungs,” she says.

You can purchase an N95 mask on

Lyndsay Alexander, the assistant vice president of the ALA’s Healthy Air Campaign, encourages everyone to check air pollution levels in their area using and take steps to reduce exposure on days that might put them especially at risk. “The solution to air pollution is to reduce it, though,” she says, adding that this is the reason the ALA opposes the proposed EPA plan.

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In your home, it’s important to keep your windows and doors closed, says Waldron. Likewise, some household products are designed to improve air quality and reduce allergies. The AAFA has a program called Certified Asthma and Allergy Friendly that tests products to determine if they reduce allergens in the home.

“Unfortunately, if your area has sustained poor air quality, you’re going to be impacted no matter what you do as an individual,” says Waldron. “That’s why we need to rely on our lawmakers to help stop this; this isn’t something we can fix on our own or in our home,” she says. “We really need to work together to advance policies that protect clean air. For people with asthma and allergies and even the general public, our health depends on it,” she says.

ACE is a proposal — not a final rule, says Alexander. “People who are concerned can speak up at one of the three public hearings that will be held in Fresno, California; Dearborn, Michigan; or Pittsburgh,” she says. You can also submit comments to the EPA.

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