• 30/10/2003

president Bush recently toured usa's largest power plant and hailed it as a symbol of how the relaxation of clean air rules would boost both the economy and the environment. But an internal us government report may prove that he is wrong yet again. As per the report, us federal health standards that limit the amount of soot in the air do not adequately protect the elderly, and people with respiratory problems.

The findings, which are included in a draft paper of the us Environmental Protection Agency (epa), are being circulated for review by scientists from other organisations. The 400-page draft paper states that since 1997, some scientific studies "have confirmed and strengthened' the association between exposure to microscopic soot and premature deaths (due to cardiovascular problems and respiratory illnesses).

Furthermore, since many of these studies showed adverse health effects even when airborne soot concentrations were well below the maximum limit allowed by a 1997 standard, the epa analysis recommends that the permitted limits should be reduced further, possibly as much as by 50 per cent. The annual average of no more than 15 microgrammes of soot per cubic metre of air (as per the present rules) should be cut down to 12 microgrammes to achieve adequate health benefits; the 24-hour standard of 65 microgrammes per cubic metre of air should also be reduced to 30 microgrammes.

Health advocates cite the findings as a major development, supporting the contention that tougher air quality standards are a must, as the microscopic soot can become easily lodge deep inside lung tissue. "The report represents the best judgment of the epa in its interpretation of the science,' says Deborah Shprentz, a consultant for the American Lung Association. However, some experts assert that introduction of stringent standards is a remote possibility as it may put the Bush administration at odds with the industry.

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