Conservation Groups Take Action against EPA's Inability to Combat Acid Rain
Three conservation organizations filed a legal challenge to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) failure to update air-quality standards the agency itself admits are inadequate to protect the nation's parks, forests, rivers and lakes from acid rain. The petition for review was filed in the federal court of appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by the Clean Air Council, Center for Biological Diversity and National Parks Conservation Association, represented by Earthjustice.
"Acid rain isn't a thing of the past, but an ongoing and very real threat to forest ecosystems and wild fisheries across the country," said Kevin Bundy, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "EPA is ignoring the hard work of its own scientific experts and instead relying on outdated air-quality standards that it knows are not protective enough."
"Instead of following the law and doing what is necessary to protect our natural resources, EPA has chosen to sit on the sidelines. Meanwhile, acid rain continues to poison our waters and threaten our forests," said Joe Minott of the Clean Air Council.
"Our national parks are unique and fragile places that were set aside to preserve the natural heritage of our nation," said Mark Wenzler, vice president for Clean Air and Climate Programs at the National Parks Conservation Association. "The EPA's failure to protect national parks from acid rain risks leaving wildlife and ecosystems permanently impaired."
"EPA's scientists identified the problem and provided a formula for action, but EPA dropped the ball," said Charles McPhedran, attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the three groups. "EPA's inaction hurts our streams, and will not stand."
Power plants and other industrial operations pump pollution, including sulfur and nitrogen compounds, into the air. When this pollution later falls onto forests, rivers and lakes, it has an acidifying effect, hence the term "acid rain." Acidic waters harm fish and other aquatic organisms. In the Adirondack Mountains, for example, lakes with more acidic water support only half the species of fish that might otherwise live there. Reduced growth rates in trout and salmon also have been attributed to acid stress.
Acid rain threatens entire forest ecosystems, national parks and wilderness areas. Although places across the country are at risk from this pollution, the eastern U.S.—including the Adirondacks, the Green and White mountains, and the Appalachians—and the upper Midwest are among the most sensitive areas.
Today's action has a long history. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set so-called "secondary" air-quality standards limiting ambient concentrations of air pollutants that affect "public welfare," which includes ecosystems and natural resources. The Center and other groups sued the agency in 2005 over its failure to review the secondary standard for acid rain-causing sulfur and nitrogen compounds—a standard first established in 1971 and not strengthened since. That litigation led to the EPA's current review of the standard, in which the agency admitted that existing standards are inadequate to protect sensitive ecosystems and fish species from the effects of acid rain. Yet the EPA chose to leave these inadequate standards in place, rejecting efforts by the agency's own scientific experts to devise a new, more protective standard.
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Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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