We’ve all heard about global warming, carbon emissions, and increasing pollution on the news. It seems you can’t read a newspaper or turn on the TV these days without being bombarded about these important global issues. Most of the time reports seem focused on the world-wide effects of pollution and carbon emissions, and what this means for the planet as a whole. But do you ever wonder about the air in your own back yard?
Virginians, Take Note
The American Lung Association published their “State of the Air: 2007” report earlier this year, which ranks the Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia, DC-MD-VA-WV area as 11th metro area most polluted by short-term particle pollution, 20th for year-round particle pollution, and 11th for ozone pollution. In addition, a recent Forbes study ranking America’s Greenest States ranked Virginia 23rd out of the 50 states. That means 22 states score better for “green” behavior and environmental quality than Virginia.
The State of the Air in Your County
If you’re interested in how the air in your county stacks up, you can visit the American Lung Association’s State of the Air website. Here you can enter your zip code in order to see a report card for your counties air. For example, in our Norfolk, VA zip code 23510, the American Lung Association gave a “B” grade to the particle pollution levels in our air. That’s not bad, especially when compared to some of Virginia’s other counties. The worst air can be found in Northern Virginia – Arlington and Fairfax counties are graded as the worst for both particle pollution and ozone (smog) pollution.
What’s Causing All This Air Pollution?
If you guessed cars and trucks on our roads, you’re partially right. But what you may not think of right away are all the industrial factories and coal burning plants on the east coast that contribute to the worsening of our air.
According to the EPA, emissions from industrial facilities and electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents are major sources of ozone pollution. Coal burning plants, which provide about half of America’s electricity needs, are estimated to produce 40% of US carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon monoxide is primarily from motor vehicles, with boats, construction equipment, and industrial processes.
Sulfur dioxide is mainly released into the air by electric utilities (particularly coal burning plants) and is also released by petroleum refineries, cement manufacturing, metal processing facilities, locomotives, and large ships. As for lead emissions, there are a variety of sources. Before lead was phased out in gasoline, 78% of lead emissions were estimated to come from motor vehicle emissions. However these days lead is emitted predominately by metal processing plants, followed by waste disposal, fuel combustion, and other manufacturers.
Why Should I Care About Air Pollution?
While ozone is naturally occurring high up in our atmosphere, closer to earth – in the air we breathe – it is considered a harmful pollutant. It’s an irritating, invisible gas that becomes more common during hot summer months and is especially dangerous to children, teens, senior citizens, and people with lung conditions like asthma. In addition to damaging vegetation and ecosystems, breathing ozone can cause or exacerbate all of the following health problems: chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, congestion, bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, reduced lung function, scar lung tissue, inflame lung lining, and breathing problems.
Particle pollution is probably one of the most dangerous, widespread, and deadly of air pollutants in our outdoor air. According to the EPA, particle pollution is composed of a variety of matter, including acids (like nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles. Particle pollution – especially very fine particles, like those found in smoke and haze – can cause a variety of serious conditions. And just like ozone, it’s more dangerous to children, teens, senior citizens, and people with lung conditions. According to the American Lung Association, breathing particle pollution year-round can shorten your lifespan by one to three years! Now, consider some of the proven health effects from particle pollution: increase in existing respiratory symptoms, airway irritation, coughing, difficulty breathing, decreased lung function, asthma, chronic bronchitis, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks, strokes, and premature death.
Carbon monoxide is considered very dangerous, as it is poisonous to even healthy people and can seriously affect those with heart or cardiovascular disease. Breathing polluted air can cause chest pain and exacerbate existing heart and lung conditions, as well as cause problems with vision, the ability to work or learn, manual dexterity, and the ability to perform complex tasks. Carbon monoxide also contributes to the formation of ground level ozone.
Sulfur dioxide can cause respiratory problems, reduced visibility in our air, acid rain, damage to plants and animals, and damage to building materials and paints when it falls as acid rain. One of the problems with sulfur dioxide is that it can travel great distances, so problems from pollution aren’t confined to where the pollution takes place. And yet again, our most vulnerable citizens are most at risk from sulfur dioxide – children, teens, and senior citizens.
Lead is well-known to be dangerous to humans, especially with all the stories in the news lately about contaminated toys. Infants and young children are particularly at risk for lead poisoning, especially those in urban areas and those that live near trash incinerators, high traffic areas, lead smelters, battery plants, or industrial facilities. People are affected by lead when it is inhaled or ingested from our water, soil, or dust in the air. Lead can accumulate in the blood, bones, muscles, and fat, and can cause a variety of problems – many of which can’t be reversed. Organ damage, brain and nervous system damage, blood pressure and heart disease, and anemia are all possible side effects from lead. We have additional information about lead poisoning available in our firm’s library.
Can Lawsuits Really Help?
Quite simply, yes! Earlier this year American Electric Power (AEP) settled with the Justice Department for $4.6 billion dollars, which will be used to upgrade power plants in Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky (AEP is known as Appalachian Power in Virginia and West Virginia). The settlement is a result of a lawsuit brought on behalf of the EPA, a number of environmental groups, and the states of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Our own Richard Serpe secured compensation for many Virginia families whose lives were damaged by companies more interested in profit margins than the health and safety of our state’s residents. In fact, Mr. Serpe has secured over $50, 000,000 (fifty million dollars) for clients since starting his career, including helping over 90 Virginia families whose health was damaged by the Abex Corporation.
If your health or the health of somebody you love has been negatively affected by exposure to pollutants, chemicals, other industrial materials or lead, please contact the Serpe Firm immediately. The Serpe firm is a Virginia based practice serving Norfolk, Tidewater, Virginia Beach, and Richmond areas. Mr. Serpe cares about the health of Virginia’s residents, and can help you recover from the devastating effects of toxic poisoning and get you the compensation you deserve.
Law Offices of Richard J. Serpe, P.C.
580 East Main Street, Suite 310
Norfolk, VA 23510