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Clean Air Ambassador: Cherise Udell

On those "red alert" days I felt as if I was locking my daughters in a windowless room full of chain smokers.

In 2005, when I moved with my family from California to Utah, I was shocked by the poor air quality. Day after day that first winter we experienced a breath-taking blanket of smothering smog. On those "red alert" days I felt as if I was locking my daughters (7 months and 3 years old at the time) in a windowless room full of chain smokers.

And sure enough, soon after this uncomfortable image crept into my mind, a new group called Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment held a press conference confirming that that's exactly what we're doing to our children. Breathing Salt Lake City's dirty air during a 24-hour winter inversion is virtually the same as smoking half a pack of cigarettes.

The mental image of my baby with a cigarette dangling from her toothless mouth was enough to move me to action. Utah Moms for Clear Air was born that day with a simple but heartfelt email to about a hundred moms inviting them to join together to make Utah's air cleaner and safer.

The response was phenomenal. Within hours dozens of mothers emailed me saying, "Yes, count me in, I cannot take this bad air anymore!" Others flooded my inbox with stories of their children's lingering illnesses, infections, and cancers that they instinctively felt were connected to Utah's toxic air.

In three short weeks, Utah Moms for Clean Air was over 300 members strong, and growing. Within our first two months we had over 1,000 members, we made our outraged voices heard at the Air Quality Board, held our first public meeting in which over 150 moms (and dads) attended, we also published op-eds in our local papers, met with Governor Huntsman, and garnered nearly daily media coverage. Clearly, we had struck a nerve in the community that had suffered too quietly for too long.

Organizing mothers to defend the right of every child to breathe clean air was a no-brainer, but little did I know how powerful our message would become. Mothers, after all, are in a special moral position to advocate for a clean air. Our intent is simple: to ensure that our children, whose lives are entrusted to us, have a healthy environment in which to grow and flourish. We deliberate over car seat models and the right foods to feed our kids. We study the latest child development information, investigate schools and choose appropriate after-school activities. We often agonize over our children's safety, worrying about crime and abuse and accidents. Yet the way we are living is permanently damaging our kids' health. Convenience should not trump our children's well-being; nor should industry profits. We can choose to behave differently; Utah's (and America's) children are depending on us to do so.

After four years, Utah Moms for Clean Air has a long list of accomplishments including being instrumental in the defeat of three coal-fired power plants, forcing the Utah Department of Transportation to alter their plan to build a 8-lane mega freeway adjacent to 21 schools, passing legislation in Utah that provided money to retrofit all of our diesel school buses and initiating a city-wide idle-free campaign.
 

Ambassador Group Affiliation: 
Utah Moms for Clean Air
Ambassador Profession: 
Full-time mom and Clean Air Activist