Cleaning the air with our 18 foot inhaler

Inhaler

Community Leaders and volunteers gather around a giant inhaler at Stewart Field to raise awareness the dangerous health problems of air pollution. Photo by Christy Newell, Will Steger Foundation Intern

On Tuesday, Minneapolis residents protested dangerous air pollution from cars and coal-fired power plants with an 18-foot-tall human hand holding an asthma inhaler. Concerned citizens gathered at Stewart Field, warning that air pollution causes asthma attacks and makes kids sick, and demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reduce toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants and from cars and encourage a 21st-century transportation system.

“Dirty air costs Minnesotan families too much,” said Jessica Tatro from the Sierra Club North Star Chapter. “Children with asthma need the EPA to adopt tough air-quality standards to protect our health and to transition us toward clean energy solutions like wind and solar.”

Burning coal for electricity and gas in our cars and trucks generates toxic air pollutants like smog and soot, which exacerbate asthma and other health problems. Children and seniors are especially vulnerable to the health risks of air pollution. The EPA estimates that smog and soot pollution cause over $100 billion in health costs nationwide each year. This startling number has not gone unnoticed by local community leaders, like State Senator Torres Ray.

On Tuesday, State Senator Torres Ray said, “I’m delighted to participate in the air quality awareness event organized by the Sierra Club in Minneapolis. Air Pollution caused by humans is an increasing danger for people and the environment. I’m very concerned about the threat to public health posed by cities’ air pollution. Many children and seniors in our City are being diagnosed with asthma disorders and need to take strong measures to address it.”

Asthma is one of America’s worst public health problems affecting over 400,000 people – including 118,111 children – in Minnesota alone. A local community member and a parent of a child with asthma, Valerie Martinez, shared the heart wrenching story of when her two month old son had trouble breathing because of environmental toxins. “Communities with less resistance are not aware of developments like freeways that add toxins to their community,” said Valerie. “Or they are not educated about the implications of these developments. Too often, it is these communities that bear the brunt of development in the city.” More than 35 million Americans live within 300 feet of a major road, which puts them at greater risk for illnesses like asthma.

State Representative Clark commented on Valerie’s statement, saying, “Clean air protection is an environmental justice issue because air pollution disproportionately affects low income neighborhoods like the Phillips neighborhood in South Minneapolis” where the press conference took place.

Inhaler2

During Tuesday’s event, Sierra Club members and local residents demanded that the EPA take action to reduce harmful air pollution that causes asthma. This summer, the EPA is expected to set new standards for cleaning up smog and soot. If strong enough, these protections will lessen public health problems like asthma and save thousands of lives every year. Strong standards would also boost to the economy by saving billions of dollars in health costs, reducing sick days, and creating jobs for workers installing pollution controls on power plants and building better public-transit systems. Strong new EPA air pollution standards would also help encourage development of clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar that create even more green jobs.

Residents are also calling upon the Obama administration to protect children’s health by issuing strong protections from air pollution like smog. The EPA was scheduled to release its final rule on smog on July 29 but announced last week that it would delay finalizing the rule. The new ozone standard would protect some of America’s most vulnerable populations, including children and the elderly, from respiratory illnesses like asthma. “EPA’s Science Advisory Board and health professionals have advocated a stricter standard for most of the 40 years that we’ve been monitoring ozone in the air we breathe,” said Dr. Simcik, a faculty member at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. “We need an educated public to support these experts and politicians in protecting both our health and our economy.” Dr. Simcik and other concerned citizens of Minneapolis urged the Obama administration to stand up for public health and to issue long overdue clean air protections that protect public health.

Jessica Tatro said. “We need to clean up our air and foster a healthy economy, with clean energy sources like wind and solar and a 21st-century transportation system.”

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