Las Cruces’ health at risk with 112 dirty air days in 2015

For Immediate Release

For Additional Information: Hannah Perkins, hperkins@environmentnewmexico.org, 781-277-1780

Las Cruces– Air pollution remains a major threat to our health, according to a new report from Environment New Mexico Research & Policy Center, Our Health at Risk: Why Are Millions of Americans Still Breathing Unhealthy Air? In 2015, people here in Las Cruces experienced 112 unhealthy air pollution days, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts.

“Even one day with unhealthy air is too many,” said Hannah Perkins, campaign organizer with Environment New Mexico.

“Exposure to Air Pollution can have severe health effects, especially on young children and older adults,” added Edan Luschei, registered nurse. “Asthma is one of the most common chronic childhood diseases.”

The report comes during National Public Health Week, a celebration of efforts to tackle the underlying causes of disease – like air pollution – and ensure that all people have a chance to live long and healthy lives.

Although our air is less polluted than it was 30 years ago, dirty air is still a major health problem. Despite that fact, President Trump is taking an axe to important programs that could help clean up our air. In just the last month, the Trump Administration has:

  • Instructed the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, the largest step the United States has ever taken to cut dangerous global warming pollution;

  • Proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, a “get out of jail free card” for polluters;

  • Instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back federal clean cars standards that were supposed to prevent 6 billion metric tons of global warming pollution; and

  • Told the Department of Interior to rewrite air pollution regulations for oil and gas drilling.

These actions will have significant health impacts. Blocking the Clean Power Plan alone will slow progress in cleaning our air – leading to 3,600 additional premature deaths, 90,000 more asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 more missed work and school days by 2030.

“I spent 24 years as an elementary school principal and witnessed the steady increase of nebulizers in the school nurses medical rooms for asthmatic children,” said Earl Nissen, retired professor and principal. “Some children's asthma attacks required 911 calls.”

Our Health at Risk reviews EPA records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and soot – dangerous pollutants that come from burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Key findings include:

  • People in Las Cruces experienced 112 days with elevated smog pollution and 86 days with elevated soot pollution in 2015.

  • Based on preliminary data, 2016 was even worse. Las Cruces had 15 additional unhealthy smog pollution days compared to 2015.

  • Las Cruces ranked 23rd in the nation for worst smog pollution in 2015, and is the worst in the state for soot.

Many New Mexicans may be exposed to air pollution even more severe than described here because they live in local pollution “hotspots,” such as near freeways, airports and industrial facilities – facing greater health impacts. For example, people who live near highly traveled roads are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, and at greater risk of death from stroke, lung disease and heart disease.

“It’s not just soot and smog,” said Perkins. “We also have to worry about global warming pollution. Warming is extending the smog season across more of the year, and driving up smog levels on hot days. And along with drought, warming is making wildfires more frequent and intense – causing additional pollution that can travel hundreds of miles.”

“Chronic exposure to high levels of air pollution and other risk factors have been linked to increased respiratory symptoms, decreased lung function, asthma, chronic bronchitis, irregular heartbeat, and heart attack.  Air pollution and its irritants have been linked to premature death in people with preexisting heart and lung disease,” said Luschei.

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Environment New Mexico Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization. We are dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit www.environmentnewmexicocenter.org.