I developed a strong conviction that clean air is not only a must for all of us, but that it is also our right.
Growing up in a small community about 30 miles outside of Pittsburgh, PA, I often heard relatives share tales about that industrial city's long prevalent air pollution. I also heard stories about a tragic week (in October, 1948) in a town even closer to our community, in which 20 deaths and thousands of illnesses were attributed to a severe unhealthy air situation. While I did not live through those periods, those stories became etched in my memory, and I developed a strong sense of the importance of clean, healthy air and of the impact of polluted air on human health. As my appreciation of our environment and its effect on our health expanded, I developed a strong conviction that clean air is not only a must for all of us, but that it is also our right.
Today, I am a mom and a critical care nurse, so this issue has certainly become personal. I want my children, my patients, and my community to experience the healthiest possible future. Breathing unhealthy/polluted air diminishes that opportunity, especially for those who are most vulnerable—children, the elderly, those with chronic conditions, and the urban poor. No one should contract an illness or have to fight for a breath because they inhaled chemicals or particulates that were knowingly pumped into our atmosphere by industries that ignore or deny the risk to public health. These are preventable illnesses.
I want officials in Washington, D.C. to understand that clean air is a matter of health. Pollutants in our air can worsen existing respiratory diseases and leave the public vulnerable to long-term health problems like asthma and other serious illnesses. Clean air standards that are weak or not enforced put public health at risk. We all have a right to breathe clean, healthy air, and no person or industry should be sanctioned to release harmful substances into our air—especially not on the basis of economics. Our family is also struggling to balance our budget, but at the top of our budget is our health and welfare. The enforcement of the Clean Air Act protects the public health of all communities.