RIGHT TO BREATHE: 50 STATES UNITED

Cherise Udell

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

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

Clean Air Ambassador:

Cherise Udell

Salt Lake City, Utah

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.
 

All Messages: Supporting Our Clean Air Ambassadors.

Thank you

Thank you for all that you are doing!

Thanks for speaking on behalf of mothers everywhere, especially here in Utah.

Thanks for fighting for all of our children. Laurie

Thanks! Even if one does not believe in global warming, they just need to take a look and breath the air on a "red alert" day to realize that we do have problems and must support a strong Clean Air Act!

Cherise, I strongly support and applaud your commendable efforts. I've lived in Utah for over eight years, and I'm always amazed that such a beautiful state is largely governed by such atavistic, environmentally hostile elected and appointed officials. The Governor's new energy plan is skewed toward more fossil fuel development, despite the existing severe air pollution from this development and how burning these fuels will further contribute to dangerous climate change. The Utah Division of Air Quality is apparently beholden to polluting industries and fossil fuel interests. And the Utah Congressional delegation generally votes and does whatever the polluting industries and fossil fuel interests want. In short, the "Beehive state" seems run by "fossil fools" who put industry and campaign contributor interests over the public health interests of the constituents they are sworn to represent. Until more Utah voters wake up and decide to take back their government, EPA's oversight role under the Clean Air Act may be the only realistic hope for some relief. In any case, best wishes for every success in your efforts.

Living in such a beautiful state as Utah where natural wonders never cease to abound, it breaks my heart that the Wasatch Front now has statistically one of the most, if not the most, uhealthy air quality readings in the the country. For the health of our families, our communities and ourselves this cannot continue. We need clean air.

I am also a transplant from California. We used to tease driving back into California about being able to see the air. It isn't so funny anymore when we can do the same thing coming down from Park City into Salt Lake.

We live in a valley and have to figure out how to clean up the mess those before us have left for us. We cannot leave this for our children.

Go back 25 years to utah county. our young family moved back to our home town. in 1987, geneva steel was permitted to start up after a year on idle. that winter the particulate levels were off the charts.

my husband and i were in our late 30's. although my husband was physically active (backpacked 5 days on the skyline trail on skis), he suffered double pneumonia. Me too. Both our young children (7, 9) also suffered pneumonia. We learned that 4 other adults living within a block of us suffered double pneumonia. many neighbor children required daily asthma treatments. that year the admissions of children to the hospital for pneumonia, bronchitis, pleursy, and asthma tripled.

we formed the utah clean air coalition, consisting of utah league of women voters, utah valley citizens for clean air, sierra club, utah medical association, and others. we sued epa for inaction on a state implementation plan for particulate matter 10 microns and smaller (bypasses our defenses and settles in our lungs). we worked to get the weather and newspapers to inform citizens of air quality, advising outdoor activities. we got the board of health to direct schools to keep children indoors for recess on red air days.

we learned that polluting industries are represented on the committee that hears and grants utah exemptions and variances to controls. utah literally has the fox guarding the hen house. polluting industries hire lobbyists and contribute huge campaign funds for legislature and governor candidates. polluting industries receive exemptions, variances, and tax credits.

one economist estimated utah county's health costs at 100 million dollars during the 80's. a handful of owners of geneva made a few million dollars. utah county has a huge number of babies, young children, pregnant women, and aerobic exercisers. these are mouth breathers--the most vulnerable ones. Long term health damage in asthma and chronic bronchitis hit our young HEALTHY population.

what are your lungs worth?

is this situation enough to get you off your couch and moving for change?
Attend meetings and rallies for clean air. bring your children and neighbors. video these meetings and direct your community cable channel to air them. Our informed votes are our only power.

don't just express thanks to others working on this. TAKE ACTION! contact this organization and volunteer to do a variety of tasks. are you willing to give an hour a month for clean air? Donate $10 (less than a dollar each month) to a clean air group. post clean air action on your facebook wall. contact your legislator and tell him/her that clean air is your top priority. attend candidate forums and ask candidates what ACTION they will take for clean air.

All community levels--city, county, state, and national candidates can make a difference. We need and informed citizenry who abide by strong laws (with serious enforcement and penalties), a strong state dept of environmental quality (with citizens and health represented on the committee that hears and grants variances, exemptions, and penalties), a strong epa, and constant pressure on lawmakers.

don't fall for the tactic polluters employ when they talk numbers and technical science. here is the most effective statement to make, "When this baby is sick, i know the air is bad."

Moms have tremendous moral power. Use your and speak out. we can change this.

I think we should do all we can to clean up every plant, every vehicle, etc., to improve our air on the Wasatch Front. There should be strict standards on all sides, and we should be working towards helping the E.P.A.. I also hope we would work towards cleaner energy, helping President Obama and the Federal Government with that agenda. We need to be a part of the bigger picture too, because that affects us. Thanks!

I am behind you all the way. I love living in Salt Lake--except the air. Utah is incredibly beautiful--except the air. We can change this.

Thank you so much. My family is standing with you. I ride a bicycle and have to wear a micron filter mask similar to the ones that were worn at the games in China. My great-grandchildren have asthma and so does one son-in-law. We have the worst air quality in the nation and all our politicians can think of is how to give more financial breaks to corporations!

Thank you so much for fighting for us. We live in the most beautiful state in the US and we can't go outside to enjoy it. It's time to stop killing ourselves and our children and push back against the big money lobbyists. I can't understand why people keep voting in people who don't care about the people they are supposed to represent. All of us need to back you by thinking when we reach the voting booth instead of blindly hitting "the party" lever. Our lives depend upon it.

Thank you so much for fighting. With all the beauty we have, we can't go outside to enjoy it. It's criminal...and really needs to be legally criminal. It's time to stop the pollution and fight back against the big money lobbyists.

Hi Sherise;

I'm a doggie mom, and I hate taking my dogs for walks on red alert days. Thank you so much for speaking up for all of us to demand better air quality in SLC. We have had the "worst air quality" in the nation on many days, (according to CNN). Thank you again for speaking up.

Why should we sacrifice our health for billionaires to make even MORE money?

The air quality is horrible in Salt Lake City.

It is not only bad to look at, it is bad to breathe.

This needs to be changed.

Good luck- you will need it because the majority of Utahans are clueless and unmotivated.

The air quality is very bad in Salt Lake City.

The air quality is very bad in Salt Lake City.

Thank you! We need all the help we can get in Utah!

It used to be every winter I was appalled at the layer of smog settling over the valley. Now it is year round. Obviously we cannot get clean air by letting companies do what they want. We need enforceable regulations and cleaner burning vehicles. Good luck talking to our tea party representatives.

The air pollution in Salt Lake City is disgraceful. Thank you for speaking for us.

Please keep Utah's air fresh and healthy. Our physical AND economic wellbeing depends upon it!!

Keep up the good work!

Cherise, you rock!

Thank you, Cherise! Good luck in D.C.

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