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How can I help clean up the air?

Gary A. Emmett, M.D, offers tips on how we can cut down on air pollution, both indoors and out. Improving our air quality can help children with chronic lung conditions like asthma.

It's time to take some action when it comes to cleaning up our air. Sensible regulation is needed to avoid the current situation in Chinese cities  – air pollution so bad that people are actually afraid to go outside at times.  Johnny Carson used to joke that he was uncomfortable leaving Los Angeles because he did not trust air that he could not see. But air that you can see is a disaster – especially for people with chronic lung conditions, such as asthma in children and emphysema in older people.

I was asked last month by the American Lung Association to speak in front of the Environmental Protection Agency on their proposals to reduce air pollution, especially in regards to stiffening regulations of car exhausts and fuel use.

When I spoke to the EPA, I concentrated on some fairly simple ideas that the average citizen can help improve our air quality.

For outdoor air pollution, I would equip all diesel trucks and buses with automatic engine cutoff switches so that when they stopped, engines off, and when they started, engines on, as we now have on electric cars.  A more available tool (that is on the books now in Philadelphia) is that all diesel vehicles are required to not idle when they stop.

Multiple research papers show that children with asthma who live on streets with lots of commercial vehicles have many times more asthma attacks then those who live on small streets without commercial vehicles.  If the Parking Authority would simply ticket idling trucks and buses, they would stop idling and acute lung disease would drop.

For indoor air pollution, the quickest and easiest tip is simply not letting anyone smoke indoors or come indoors if they still smell of smoke.  Homes with smoking have twice the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome rate of non-smoking homes and at least a 50 percent rise in reported asthma.

Also, remember that second hand smoke has health consequences for children.  Recently, a father brought a fairly ill 3 year-old child to the emergency department with an unusual post-viral infection partial paralysis named Guillan-Barre Syndrome.  The child had been an ill premature baby that had required a prolonged intensive care stay and now was going to need hospital treatment for his body's over-reaction to his lung infection.  Lung infections are much more common in children who live with smokers.

On history, the child was on all-natural foods and spring water. The parents refused immunizations because they were worried that the vaccines would pollute their child's body.  They also complained while the child stayed in the hospital because they had to go outside and go far away from the hospital to smoke.  They regularly smoked around the child, and didn't not see the contradiction in their behavior or how it might hurt their child.

So do what you can now to stop smoking indoors (and out) and stop diesel vehicles from idling outdoors, which can save lives and hospitalizations, and support the EPA's more efficient vehicle proposals for the long-term.

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