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The air and water around you might make you sick, and your doctor wants to change that.
As scientific evidence strengthens the connection between air and water pollution and disease, Texas physicians seek ways to restrict the amount of toxins in the environment, reports Texas Medicine magazine, the official publication of the Texas Medical Association (TMA).
“We can either watch as our patients develop diseases and even die — because of the quality of air we breathe — or we can go public and work to reduce and reverse the progressive deterioration of the environment we live in,” says Wesley Stafford, MD, a Corpus Christi allergy and asthma physician and member of the TMA Council on Science and Public Health. “We owe it to our patients, our communities, our children, and ourselves to get involved.”
Dr. Stafford knows all too well just how damaging air pollution can be. His patients frequently suffer increased respiratory disease symptoms when air quality is poor. Pollutants like low-level ozone, secondhand smoke, and particulate matter can trigger asthma attacks and other lung and health conditions, and even heart attacks, according to physicians. These pollutants, along with compounds such as mercury, can especially threaten the health of very young or elderly people, and unborn children.
As physicians witnessed their patients getting sick from these causes, TMA became inspired to urge government leaders and legislators to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants and diesel engines. When Las Brisas Energy Center, LLC, applied for a permit to build a petroleum coke-fired power plant in Corpus Christi, Dr. Stafford and other Texas physicians called attention to the detrimental health impact the plant could have on the area’s residents. The project is on hold awaiting further review by the Environmental Protection Agency.
In addition to advocating for cleaner air, Texas physicians are concerned about the effects of water pollution on public health.
This past legislative session TMA supported a state law requiring companies who apply for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) permits to disclose the chemicals they use. Fracking involves shooting the solution into the ground at high pressures. Some of the chemicals used are known or possible carcinogens, including diesel, benzene, lead, and methanol. Before the law passed, the names of many of these ingredients were withheld from the public for “proprietary” or “trade secret” purposes.
Robert Haley, MD, TMA physician leader and director of the Division of Epidemiology at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, says disclosing fracking chemicals benefits public health.
“If we see chemicals appearing in a city’s water supply or in an aquifer that feeds a large area, we can determine which wells the chemicals came from,” says Dr. Haley. “We can figure out how the contamination occurred and work to prevent it from happening again. We can also hold the offending company accountable.”
More information on TMA’s initiatives to keep patients safe from pollution that can harm health can be found in the April issue of Texas Medicine magazine.
TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 45,500 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 120 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.
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