"I am short of breath, I can't walk."

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Fri, 08/06/2021 - 19:09

This is a guest post by Adrienne Allen, MD, MPH based on her statement at the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) public forum at the Peabody Senior Center in April, 2021.

I am Dr. Adrienne Allen, I am on the Belmont Board of Health. I am the Medical Director of quality, safety, and sustainability at North Shore Physicians Group (MGH). I worked at MGH and now work in Lynnfield. I take care of patients in Essex County. I am here in own capacity as a physician who has worked on the North Shore for past 10 years.

We have been remarkably concerned about COPD rates and coronary admission rates. I have also been very concerned about climate change, we can feel the heat, the heat is getting worse.

How does climate change affect the health of our patients?

In no uncertain terms, the burning of any fossil fuel kills people. It kills patients and it shortens their lives.

We heard a lot today about decarbonization by 2050, but I have patients that are dying today and are sick today because of air quality and because of air pollution.

Look at the American Lung Association site, and see what our air quality is. Essex county gets a D for Ozone, last year it was an F.

We hear that the peaker plant will only burn on a few days, so maybe the health effects won't be so bad.

There are a few studies in our area that show that even short term exposure to particulate matter, the type that comes from power plants, increases premature death, particularly for patients over 65 years old. There is a NE study from 2016 and a Boston area study in 2017

In Essex county, we have 15,000 patients that have pediatric asthma; 64,000 patients with COPD; and 48,000 with coronary disease.

Particulate matter also increases rates of diabetes.

[Plant proponents cite the] risks of power outages for elderly people. But I do all types of risk. But what about risks of safety for my patients?

This is the first time this year that I am showing patients how to check air quality on their phone. They tell me, "I am short of breath, I can't walk."

Look at the air quality for last 30 days, it is 11 mcg, higher than WHO sets for good air quality.

Hot air holds more particulate matter, so when it is a hot day, that is when the peaker will run.

This area was hit very hard by COVID. Study after study links poor air quality and high COVID morbidity.

I'm here as a patient advocate, I'm trying to understand some questions:

Why are we here right now?

Why is there a power plant right across from MGH where we have our cancer center and where many of us get our care.

Why is it within 2 miles of schools, public facilities, and 7 environmental justice communities?

We can control a lot about lifestyles, about diet, but we can't control the air we breathe.

We don't have time to wait. It's getting hotter and the air quality is getting worse.

The last question I ask, is—with the new regulations for looking at Environmental Justice communities, what are we going to do to monitor this?

So I would ask MMWEC—what are we going to do to monitor the health impact of this power plant, and how will it affect the health of all of us?

Thank you very much for your time today.

Editor: Air quality reports

Dr. Allen mentioned in her report that she suggests using an app to check air quality. There are apps for “air quality” on iOS and at Google Play. If you do a search on “air quality reports” you will find weather reports for your computer or smart phone that also cover air quality. A good report service will give you a clear overall evaluation for your location and also provide a breakdown of details on several pollutants including PM2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 microns), PM10 (particulate matter less than 10 microns), NO2 (nitrogen dioxide), O3 (ozone), SO2 (sulfur dioxide), CO (carbon monoxide), SOx (sulfur oxides). The ratings of each pollutant should be clearly related to baseline values for evaluating each threat to health. Some of the apps provide the data for each pollutant and assign a graphic and/or numerical score along with a descriptive phrase. The many apps include Breezometer.com; Plumelabs.com; weather.com;  AirNow.gov .