Sixty community members gathered last Tuesday morning for the Green Ideas and Ham Breakfast. Guests heard from Minnesota Department of Public Health Assistant Commissioner Aggie Leitheiser and public health professional and mother of a son with asthma, Shawna Hedlund. Following the presentations was a lively discussion about clean air in Minnesota, when guests had the opportunity to ask the speakers questions.
Shawna Hedlund balanced her presentation between her experience as a mother to a child with asthma and her expertise as a public health professional. She was able to relate statistics on asthma to her own son’s struggle. For example, in 2020 $107 million is expected to be spent on respiratory and related illnesses in MN, while her son’s medical expenses already average $3000 more per year than his brother without asthma.
Shawna also highlighted why children are at greater risk for developing respiratory illnesses. She noted both the behavioral and physiological differences between children and adults. One example she used was that an infant’s average air intake is twice the level of a resting adult.
Commissioner Leitheiser set the stage for a great discussion by introducing the basics of the Clean Air Act and the EPA, and sharing news from the Minnesota Department of Health. It was encouraging to hear that they have been preparing to adapt to climate change. She noted that with a new situation and environment will come new health concerns.
Commissioner Leitheiser also presented the Minnesota Department of Health’s new effort to provide access to Minnesota data on health, the environment, and other risk factors that may impact public health. One of their hopes is that by making the data available to everyone, policy-makers will be able to better develop and evaluate policies and programs that protect health.
During the Q&A, we heard testimonies from people living with respiratory illnesses, and a strong concern for air pollution policy.
For forty years, the Clean Air Act has been protecting public health in the U.S., preventing over 400,000 premature deaths and hundreds of millions of cases of respiratory illnesses. But, as Commissioner Leitheiser noted, the environment and our knowledge about it is changing. We need to update our policies to reflect these changes.
The EPA is currently updating it’s safeguards to reduce toxic air pollution from power plants. You can take action to submit a comment for strong protections against air pollution, like mercury, arsenic, acid gases, dioxins, and other air toxics.