Every year, many Americans young and old get sick because of air pollution. Thousands die. But our lungs don't have to be the dumping ground for dirty industries. Clean air should be a fundamental right.
Tom Frantz grew up in California’s central valley. The once sparse rural area is now the source of food for millions of Americans, and throughout his life Tom has seen the bucolic pastures of his childhood transform into modern-day mega-farms.
When Tom’s daughter was 10 she started to develop migraines. Then Tom started having breathing problems. His father and brother started having to use inhalers. When he talked with others in his small his community of Shafter, CA near Bakersfield he heard similar stories from his neighbors. Pollution from Big Ag was combining with other industrial sources to form a toxic soup that was wreaking havoc on local health. Tom noticed a connection between poor air quality days and the health of his family.
Around this time, a 3,000-cow dairy opened near the school where Tom taught. At first it was a nuisance. Teachers had to install fly strips in classrooms to keep students on task. Quickly though, the nuisance became a problem. Nitrate levels in the school well spiked to unsafe levels and fine particulate matter in the air skyrocketed. Eventually, some students had to stay inside during recess due to bad air conditions.
Tom, a life-long activist, had seen enough, so he took action. He organized with people in the community. He started a grassroots organization. He got involved in legal action to improve air quality. And he started taking pictures, lots of pictures.
“I realized quickly that if I had visual evidence of the things I was talking about then people could not deny that these problems exist,” Tom said.
“I believe that individuals working together can make a difference. We need an improvement in the health of our community and our environment. But that change won’t come without individuals working together towards that goal. For me the photos and videos are just part of that work.”
This year, the EPA will continue their work on the same issues that are impacting people like Tom. The agency must soon update national health standards for fine particulate matter air pollution (PM2.5), commonly referred to as soot—a major cause of premature death and a widespread threat to those who suffer from lung and heart disease. These national health standards are critical tools that drive the cleanup of soot pollution across the country in places like Tom’s backyard and yours.
Tom was kind enough to let me follow along as he documented area pollution for a few days. In the video you can see him in action and hear him talk about his passion for cleaning up the air we all share. The time for us to take action and help people like Tom is now. We hope the EPA is listening.