Less pollution, longer life

Auntie Ruth is green to the eco scene. Read up each week as she weeds through the dirt and unearths new gems of environmental knowledge.

Auntie Ruth wants to live forever! OK, maybe that’s a bit much, but she wouldn’t mind tacking on a couple extra months to her life span. Fortunately, cleaner air over the past three decades has added almost five months to the average life expectancy in the United States, according to a federally funded study released in January. Researchers looked at health data from 51 cities and found that people are living three years longer, and 4.8 months of that can be attributed to cleaner air. Particulate matter from factories, power plants and diesel-powered vehicles can enter lungs and increase the risk of lung disease, heart attacks and strokes. In 1970, Congress gave the Environmental Protection Agency authority to set and enforce national standards to protect people from particulates, carbon monoxide and other pollutants.

Speaking of the EPA, the Governmental Accountability Office recently added the agency’s process for assessing and controlling toxic chemicals to its list of government functions at “high risk” of “fraud, violation, abuse and mismanagement.” Currently, 540 chemicals are in the process of being assessed for safety—a whopping nine assessments have been completed in the past three years. Sixty-nine percent have been in the process for more than nine years. The assessment for dioxin, a known cancer-causing agent, has been underway for 18 years. According to the GAO, the environmental agency “lacks adequate scientific information on the toxicity of many chemicals that may be found in the environment—as well as on tens of thousands of chemicals used commercially in the United States.” How reassuring.

The world’s overpopulated. United Nations projections show the world population will grow (based on three assumptions about fertility levels) to either 10.8 billion by 2150, 9.2 billion by 2050, or it will peak under 8 billion in 2041 and start declining. Because an overpopulated world strains natural resources and contributes to environmental degradation, it’s important to shoot for the lower projection. Auntie Ruth, as an environmentalist and feminist, believes access to family planning is critical. More than 200 million women don’t have access to effective contraception; meeting their needs could prevent 52 million unwanted pregnancies, 22 million induced abortions and 1.4 million infant deaths, according to the United Nations.