, Muskogee, OK

January 5, 2013

Experts: Clean air a key to health

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Experts say air quality and other environmental factors are key to good health, one area of concern the Clean Air Act was designed to address.

 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency credits the law with preventing more than 200,000 premature deaths between 1970 and 1990. Almost 700,000 cases of chronic bronchitis were avoided during the same period of time.

Between 1990 and 2010, the EPA reports, “six principal air pollutants have decreased by more than 41 percent, while the nation’s gross domestic product increased by more than 64 percent.”

Leslea Bennett-Webb, director of communications for the Oklahoma State Health Department, said air quality “certainly does have an impact on public health.” While the state agency has no oversight of air quality, “it is an area in which we are extremely interested.”

The County Health Rankings and Roadmap program, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, states “poor air or water quality can be particularly detrimental to the very young, the old, and those with chronic health conditions.” The organization cites studies that show “several pollutants, notably ozone and fine particulate matter ... can contribute to increased morbidity and mortality.”

Air pollutants also are known to have an adverse effect on those who suffer from asthma, and some pollutants are carcinogenic. Bennett-Webb said despite the fact four Muskogee companies have been the subject of enforcement actions resulting from alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, there appears to have been no significant increase in asthma-related complaints locally.

“The current asthma prevalence for Muskogee County is 8.9 percent among adults 18 years and older,” Bennett-Webb said, noting the figures represented cases reported from 2007 to 2009. “Statewide, the rate is 9.2 percent.”

Data collected and made available online by the County Health Rankings and Roadmap, however, indicates steps taken to comply with consent orders issued against four local companies for alleged air quality violations may have contributed to fewer number of poor air-quality days in Muskogee County.

In 2010, according to the County Health Rankings and Roadmap statistics, Muskogee County experienced two days during which particulate matter exceeded acceptable limits, twice the statewide average of one day a year. There were no days during which particulate matter pollution exceeded acceptable limits in 2011 and 2012, but the county experienced one day during each of those years when ozone levels exceeded established limits.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or