There’s a war on clean air and our children will suffer the consequences
To breathe easy is a common idiom that the Free Dictionary defines as “to feel calm or relieved because a stressful situation has ended.”
If only we could breathe easy about the air American children breathe.
The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a study that found an association between decreases in air pollution in and a lower asthma incidence in Southern California. Although the association between air pollution and asthma exacerbations is well known, this new study suggests children’s lung health can be protected by cleaning up our air.
Unfortunately, that does not appear to be a priority for our federal government.
The Environmental Protection Agency recently decided to end funding to research centers that study the effects of toxic chemicals and industrial pollution on children’s health, after 20 years of collaboration. Reportedly research at 13 universities is pending. The cuts in funding to these centers will also have implications for the public health education and information citizens need to protect their health.
As a registered nurse, I have cared for patients who have struggled to breathe from lung conditions such as asthma and COPD that are exacerbated by air pollution in the Chicago area.
I have cared for a young mother, who was separated from her three-week-old newborn, because she needed to be hospitalized for several days for an asthma exacerbation.
I have had patients whose lungs have failed and needed to be intubated, so a machine could breathe for them. One of my patients, a father and grandfather, looked terrified as a team of ICU nurses helped me to stabilize his respiratory status. He ended up needing to be intubated and placed on a ventilator.
Some of these patients are never able to wean off the machine and they die or need to have a ventilator for the rest of their life.
I am the mother of an eight-year-old son with asthma, who has been hospitalized five times since he was diagnosed with airway disease at the age of one. His most recent hospitalization landed him in the pediatric intensive care unit, where he was on a breathing treatment for 10 hours because his lungs couldn’t move air. Fortunately, he did not have to be intubated, but there are children who do require this to recover from an asthma exacerbation.
According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, 3,615 asthma-related deaths were reported in 2015, with 219 of those deaths in children under 18 years old.
I live and work in the Chicago area, where the American Lung Association State of the Air report gave the air quality an “F” grade due to pollution.
The EPA has recently demonstrated that the health of any American comes second to the goals of industry. Despite the established connection between air pollution and human health, the current administration has relaxed policies that protect clean air, helping those very industries that are spewing chemicals into our air.
Recently appointed officials and staff have ties to the industries that are poisoning Americans.
Andrew Wheeler, the acting head of the EPA, was formerly a coal industry lobbyist. The EPA’S Clean Air Science Advisory Committee is chaired by Louis Anthony “Tony” Cox, Jr., who acted as a consultant for American Petroleum Institute, the tobacco industry and the chemical industry.
According to the Environmental Integrity Project found one-third of this administration’s EPA appointees had worked as registered lobbyists or lawyers for fossil fuel companies, chemical manufacturers or other corporate clients such as Sygenta, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, the National Mining Association and Southern Co.
The EPA is also possibly withholding accurate data on the thousands of deaths related to pollution, as the EPA is changing their modeling system. According to an expert from the Health Effects Institute, this new modeling system has never been peer-reviewed.
Next year, our nation will elect a new president. For the protection of American health, citizens must elect a candidate who will prioritize clean air. Health-care workers, parents and patients need to mobilize and support candidates who promise to support our health.
While the nation awaits the election of a new president, action is needed now.
Groups such as the Sierra Club, Earth Justice and the Environmental Integrity Project are committed to protecting Americans from pollution through lobbying, education and research. Monetary donations help these groups continue this vital work.
Constituents can put pressure on law makers to support legislation that will stop air pollution and protect human health.
Otherwise, there will be more lung illnesses, more complications from these illnesses and ultimately more deaths.
My son, just one of 26 million affected by asthma, will continue to face exacerbations as long as our air is unclean. No parent wants to witness a child struggle for air.
Lungs don’t recognize political parties. Until then, the new administration will hopefully be a breath of fresh air.
Colleen Chierici is a registered nurse and president of the nursing staff at Rush Oak Park Hospital. She is a 2018 Illinois Nurse Leader fellow and a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project and a member of the Illinois Kidney Advocacy Council.