Pollution and Athletes: Problems and Solutions

When we think about air quality and the statutes meant to defend it, we usually think of protection for the environment. For example, most power plants and industries that burn fossil fuels emit (among other pollutants) sulfur dioxide, the key component in the creation of acid rain. This rain has the power to destroy forests and kill entire lakes full of fish. Others may also think about the health effects humans may face from these air pollutants, such as breathing in lead. However, most people do not think about our nation’s athletes, or those who exercise regularly. The fact is these people are the most at risk individuals.

Example of pollution

To understand this better, it is necessary to have some background on what the Clean Air Act (CAA) regulates. The CAA mandates that there be National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for six designated air pollutants. The pollutants are: Ozone, Carbon Monoxide, Particulate Matter, Nitrogen Oxides, Sulfur Oxides, and Lead. Inhaling or ingesting any one of those pollutants is harmful. The EPA has also instituted other policies to ensure the regulation of greenhouse gases like CO2, as well as other emissions from cars and other mobile sources as well.

Sporting events are a huge producer of greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants that can affect the health of fans and players. An estimation of carbon emissions for a single Giants/Jets game shows that each game produces 1,232,332 pounds of CO2 emissions (based on number of parking spots, total miles driven, and controlling for mile distance and mpg). This is a staggering amount, and the NFL, as well as other sports leagues, has an interest in controlling these emissions. The NFL for example, makes its money on the health of its players. If the players cannot play, people will not attend games, buy merchandise, etc.

These types of emissions are particularly troubling for sports franchises because air pollutants affect athletes far more easily than an average person who does not exercise regularly. A 2004 review of pollution studies by University of Brisbane, Australia found that even low exposure to carbon and greenhouse gas emissions for an athlete could have the same effects as high-level exposures of carbon emissions to non-athletes.

The EPA has seen the need for these teams to become more sustainable and have less of a carbon footprint. Two years ago, they launched the online Green Sports Resource Directory, which provides a list of the benefits of sports franchises going “Green,” as well as strategies and technologies helpful in the pursuit of a more sustainable business model. These technologies help reduce operational costs, waste management and disposal costs, as well as conserving resources like water. It is important for professional sports teams to undertake these initiatives in order to better care for their player’s longevity and health. It is nonetheless an interesting nexus between sports law and environmental law. A question to think about is: how can sports and entertainment law evolve to help implement environmental policies for the health and wellbeing of the players?

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