Statement Of Harry Leffman
Environmental Protection Agency
Aging Initiative Public Listening Session
May 7, 2003
Thank you for inviting me to give my comments and feedback to the EPA.
One of my strong memories as a child in Chicago is my bedroom window sill. Every three or four days it turned white to black from the soot of southern Illinois soft coal burned in the Commonwealth Edison electric plants. We breathed that air. We cleaned the sills every few days.
After World War two something changed. The windows, the cars, the houses stayed cleaner. The coarse black soot gradually disappeared. Why? Pollution was recognized as more than a nuisance. It came to be seen as a menace. Technology was developed - fluidized bed boilers, water injection, dust bag filters, electrostatic precipitators, that reduce pollution. As customers and as a society we were willing to pay the additional cost for living cleaner and healthier.
In the 70's Hewlett Packard published an ad that showed different plumes of stack effluent from furnaces using progressive cleaning technologies. . The text said that what we could not see, in smaller and smaller particles, is what our bodies have no natural defense against. The ad suggested we be respectfully on guard against what we could not easily see. Soot is not the only problem.
15 years ago I started teaching in the Atease Senior center in Dundalk, near the Beth Steel plant. Everyone in my classes could remember neighbors, one for every one or two houses, that had died of cancer. Much of this disease was suspected to be from air polluted by the steel mill. The air is better now, car paint jobs are no longer quickly pitted, but Beth steel is downsized and nearly gone
About 10 years ago I noticed, when the wind was from the south, the towels I hung out to dry in Towson came in smelling like chemical waste. I put newly dried towels in plastic bags and called Maryland air quality. Two men came out and smelled my towels, some North wind dried and some South. They could find no difference. I could smell the clothes of the men. Do you smoke? I asked both said 'yes' Is there any one in the Maryland air quality office who does not smoke? Well, there is this one guy. At my urging they took the towels downtown. Perhaps his nose would be more discerning. The state report said: yes! there were noticeable chemicals in the S wind towels. But they could not be identified. Nor could the contributing factories.
I told this story to a friend who lives just into Pennsylvania, 40 miles North,. South wind no problem, he said, but I have that problem in a north wind. The paper factories North of me make it impossible to dry clothes outside when the wind is from the north. The air stinks of chemicals
I exercise with a trail bike. When the wind is from the South, I often need to use an albuterol inhaler so I can breathe well enough to ride my bike north up the old railroad trail. Some days are OK. Some are not.
I have asthma. Thank you for telling me we assign the same dollar numbers to the pollution asthma that I have, and the pollution excited asthma of a 35 year old and the pollution induced asthma of a child, which, if let him breathe dirty and polluted air, will become, as it is for me, asthma for a lifetime.
We are in an epidemic of asthma. If the growth of electric use is only 7% a year, every ten years we will need to install a new capacity equal to everything installed from the beginning. Unless we are progressively more severe with pollution limits the air will get worse as the population and economy grow. Asthma will be only one of the ever growing problems, growing with our economic growth. Growing exponentially.
About 9 years ago Dr. Richard Graham came to Towson University from West Point to chair our chemistry department. He brought with him a computer data base listing chemical smokestack profiles for many of the major factories from here to NY. Smokestack fingerprints. We talked. I told him about the chemicals in my towels. We came up with a plan. At my request the state air quality department gave me unused equipment:
glass frits and the vacuum pump necessary to do air samples. The chemistry department bought a new gas spectrograph. But Dr. Graham died of a heart attack that January. He died before he got the air quality research program he and I talked about started on the roof of the science building. We have had the ability to really test the air - and to identify the polluters - for at least eight years. The ability we have - but we do not have the will.
A few years ago I heard the government of Poland is not willing to mount an anti smoking campaign. They know about cigarettes. They need the tobacco taxes. More importantly, they cannot afford to extend the life span of people who are no longer working. If the death rate were significantly reduced their social security program would soon go bankrupt. How insensitive, we say, how terrible.
I watch TV. TV is a make believe land. Sometimes they say things there that reflect the United States we live in. Last week on the ER program, Luca, the young and idealistic doctor, said to the hospital board: "We have the ability to save lives, but not the will. We won't save lives for one reason: we don't want to."
"But it costs money", someone on the board replied Oh, yes, there's the money.
Here's the problem: A growth rate of electric usage of only 6% means that all of the electrical generation capacity now operating will have to be built again in 12 years, and twice that amount built in the next twelve, and 4 times as much in the next 12. So by the year 2040 we will have 8 times the electrical generating as we have now. If the air quality is not to deteriorate further, the allowable emissions from each plant must be limited to 1/8 of what is now allowed. Otherwise the sheer increase in the number of power plants will overwhelm the skies with toxic waste.
The NSR rules, the good plan to require the installation of new and most effective pollution controls to reduce the effluent of power plants each time their operating licenses are renewed or the plants are upgraded, are under attack. This attack is a threat to my health. We urge you not to weaken the NSR rules. I want real clear skies, rather than words pretending to what is not. The staff who think up names like 'clear skies act' must have taken their communication training in make believe land, in 1984. I will think 'nineteen eighty four' every time I hear 'Clear Skies Act'.
The most effective pollution improvement in Baltimore In fifteen years has been the shutting down of a filthy waste incinerator and near closing of an important steel plant. Beth steel struggled with old steel technology and new, effective and costly pollution controls. And the steel plant's surrounding neighborhoods are filled with cemeteries of quiet people who died of cancer, some attributed to the ghastly air quality we had here many years ago.
Come to think of it, Baltimore still has some of the most polluted air in the United States.
And no one is effectively scanning the air, identifying the chemicals and identifying and punishing the companies that are using what we breathe as a dumping ground for their waste. They win, we lose. They profit, we die. We can live longer - but we must have the will to do real testing and keep score and set appropriate limits for effluents, for pollution.
We must have the will to deal with the pollution that is from this community. We must have the will to deal with the pollution from the South. We must have the will to deal with the pollution from the North. And we must have the will to deal with the pollution from the West, where the idea of local pollution control was, for years, to build taller smokestacks so the smoke and toxins would not be local, but be blown east by the prevailing winds to more distant communities. Here.
Pollution, air quality, health and life are hot issues for me, but then, they always have been.
I hope these are hot issues for you, too. As a society, we have the ability, As you are our government representatives, I ask you to have the willingness to represent our health, our well being.