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OPINION: EPA can lead drive toward healthier air

Dr. Guarav Zirath
Dr. Guarav Zirath

The decisions we make today affect the next generation — our kids. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a historic opportunity to be proactive and safeguard our community’s health by finalizing stronger emission standards from passenger cars to drastically reduce unhealthy air pollution. The American Lung Association’s 2023 “State of the Air” report ranked Las Vegas as the 15th most polluted city for dangerous levels of ozone in the United States. As a family physician, I see firsthand how my patients are grappling with their asthma all while worsened air quality threatens increased asthma attacks, difficulty breathing and worsened chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

Air pollution is triggering respiratory diseases in Nevadans every day. This is especially harmful for thousands of Nevada’s kids — leading to missed school days, lost workdays for parents and increased visits to the emergency rooms. There are nearly 41,000 kids living with asthma in Clark County, yet some face a greater risk of experiencing asthma triggers. Increased exposure to air pollution such as in high traffic corridors or near busy highways can increase the likelihood for children to cough, wheeze or sneeze, and generally worsen their respiratory conditions. Traffic pollution can also cause new cases of asthma in children. A practical solution exists to protect children and all individuals’ health: strengthening federal vehicle emission standards to clean up the next generation of cars. 

Most recently, the EPA finalized stronger standards on particulate matter emissions, which was critical to safeguarding human health. However, there are still several outstanding decisions to be made by EPA that will impact the health of children and community members for decades to come.

There is an urgency for the EPA to finalize strong standards for passenger vehicles that will reduce greenhouse gases along with fine particles and emissions that drive our ozone depletion. The EPA must also set its new standards to cut harmful pollution from heavy-duty trucks without delay. Strengthening emissions standards for new cars and trucks will significantly improve air quality and reduce impact to respiratory diseases for all Nevadans.

The transportation sector is the primary driver of unhealthy emissions, and tackling these pollutants paves the way for a healthier and sustainable environment where our kids can thrive. Exposure to increased traffic pollution affects kids even before they are even born. These risks include premature birth, low birth weight or even infant mortality. Children are also uniquely vulnerable to pollution because their lungs are still growing and their body’s defenses that fight off infections are still developing. They also spend more time outdoors breathing in more pollution at a quicker rate compared to adults. 

Recently, the American Lung Association released a new report, “Boosting Health for Children,” detailing the health benefits of zero-emission transportation and clean energy for Nevada kids. Transitioning toward a zero-emission transportation sector powered by clean non-combustion energy would prevent 14,800 pediatric asthma attacks and 24,000 other respiratory symptoms for Nevada children between 2020-2050. This comes after an earlier report showed more than  600 deaths avoided and $7.5 billion in health savings in Nevada alone. 

These health benefits send a clear message: We must transition to a pollution-free future. Finalizing stronger federal vehicle emission standards will protect our kids from the adverse health effects associated with exposure to pollutants. Cleaning up the transportation sector is a commitment to safeguarding the well-being of our kids by paving the way to a future where everyone can breathe freely, and our children can thrive.

Dr. Guarav Zirath is a family physician at Southwest Medical, a part of OptumCare, in Las Vegas, and is a faculty member within the Family Medicine Residency Program, training the next generation of family physicians. He also is involved in research and scholarly activities.

The Nevada Independent welcomes informed, cogent rebuttals to opinion pieces such as this. Send them to [email protected].


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