My view: Storm escalates against air pollution

By Brian Moench

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 6 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

An inversion of smog hangs over the valley Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Chopper 5, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

No one accuses the Wall Street Journal, the world's most famous business newspaper, of overreaching on environmental or public health advocacy. On the contrary, the WSJ has been an enthusiastic contributor to the ammunition used by anti-environmentalists in Congress and their ongoing war on the EPA.

So I was startled to read this subheading of a major article in the WSJ on Nov. 8: "Scientists increasingly link vehicle exhaust with brain-cell damage, higher rates of autism." Curiosity got the best of me so I continued to read.

The WSJ detailed a small portion of the medical research revealing one of the reasons for the "dumbing down" of America is, of all things, air pollution. The article read like something the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment would have written, using phrases like, "at every stage of life, traffic fumes exact a measurable toll on mental capacity, intelligence and emotional stability," and "the emissions may also heighten the risk of Alzheimer's and accelerate Parkinson's disease,"

It also said that "air pollution might be a risk factor for autism," and "by age 3 children exposed prenatally to high exhaust levels were developing mental capacities more slowly … by age 5, their IQ scores averaged four points lower on intelligence tests … by age 7, the children were more likely to show symptoms of anxiety, depression and attention problems."

Some of these studies tried to quantify the impact: 5-9 IQ points. That's a game changer, a career changer, a serious limitation to one's quality of life and earning capability.

The WSJ — part of the Fox News empire, ally of industry and business, home of Karl Rove editorials, microphone for corporate America and congressional Republicans, who are all presently collaborating in a relentless campaign to strangle the EPA — is reporting significant impairment of human intelligence by air pollution.

Occupy protests illustrate what recent polls have documented: a wide gap between the attitudes of Americans on many issues, including pollution, our fossil fuel addiction and the corporate coddling agendas of both political parties. The overwhelming majority of Democrats, Republicans and even 56 percent of tea partyers want America to make the investments needed to be the world's clean energy leader and think America's oil, coal and natural gas companies have excessive influence on Congress and the White House.

The Wall Street Journal says air pollution makes our kids stupid and alters their chromosomes, and Forbes magazine ranked Salt Lake City as the ninth most toxic American city (Feb. 2011). This could be the makings of a perfect storm finally clearing our air pollution.

Fighting this perfect storm, in defiance of public opinion, are virtually all Utah's politicians — Gov. Gary Herbert, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. Mike Lee, Rep. Rob Bishop, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Rep. Jim Matheson and many state legislators — who behave like Utah's real glory is fossil fuels. But the Occupy movement offers hope that even Utahns have had enough of politicians tethered to the corporate umbilical cord.

When our kids can no longer get into college because of the air they breathe, maybe we'll see torches and pitchforks descending on Capitol Hill. I'm cautiously holding my breath.

Brian Moench is the president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

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