Statement Of Edward Gerjuoy
Environmental Protection Agency
Aging Initiative Public Listening Session
April 23, 2003
My name is Edward Gerjuoy. I will be 85 years old next month. I have had allergies of various kinds all my life, and for the last five years have suffered from asthma. Almost exactly a year ago I came down with pneumonia, apparently the consequence of a severe asthmatic cough that refused to clear up without medication; modern antibiotics fortunately enabled me to recover without permanent disability. As for my professional qualifications, I am an Emeritus Professor of physics at the University of Pittsburgh. I also have been a practicing attorney for the past 25 years, specializing in environmental law. In fact during the years 1982-87 I was a gubernatorial appointee to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board, the special Pennsylvania agency established to hear appeals from actions of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, this Commonwealth's counterpart of the EPA.
For all the foregoing reasons I believe I have the expertise needed to speak usefully on the subject of this EPA-sponsored listening session, namely "to study the effects of environmental health hazards on older persons". There is little doubt that these effects are specially adverse on the elderly, as I am sure you will hear from many of the other speakers in this session. For instance the authors of a very recent study by a New York University research group, published in the April 15, 2003 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, write as follows ( I am quoting essentially verbatim):
"Past morbidity and mortality studies have found that the effect of air pollution was more pronounced in the older population (65 years old or more). It has also been observed that the effect of air pollution was modified by age among the older population in that those older than 75 years had a greater risk of pollution-related death compared with those who were younger. In this study, it was found that among individuals 75 years old or more, the presence of contributing respiratory disease significantly increased the associations between ambient particulate matter levels and circulatory mortality and morbidity."
I employ this quote as a point of departure for my remarks today. Because I have only three minutes, I am going to concentrate on the implications of the study's conclusions about the association between air pollution and morbidity in aged persons, leaving it to other speakers to discuss the association between air pollution and aged mortality. Morbidity is little more than a scientific term for poor health. Our ordinary unscientific experience convincingly shows that older persons are more likely to suffer from ill health than younger humans; the scientific study I have just quoted demonstrates that this elderly ill health is exacerbated by air pollution. The implications of these simple truths for the prosperity, perhaps even the fate, of this nation are immediate. As the United States heads into the middle of the twenty first century, it is essential that our increasingly aging population be able to contribute to the national wealth rather than to drain it. I am happy to be able to say that although I am nearly 85 I still am working productively, both as a physicist and as a lawyer. But I know I'm lucky. If my asthma were just a little worse, for instance if Pittsburgh air were as polluted as fifty years ago, I wouldn't be able to work productively; rather my principal occupation would be trying to breathe between visits to doctors' offices.
In short, we all age, and we all must die, but failure by this nation to minimize its air pollution, so that all Americans may remain in as good health as possible while they age, would represent a political choice that is not only morally wrong but also is economically insane, indeed a choice that ultimately would greatly diminish this nation's wealth and concomitant ability to defend itself against its enemies.