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2013 Ambassador Photo Post: 

Clean air is everyone's right, from generation to generation. This picture of my family depicts those generations that all deserve clean air.

Clean Air Ambassador | Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Betty Koepsel

I am a nurse and I am very honored to represent the American Nurses Association and the Wisconsin Nurses Association. As a member of the Wisconsin Nurses Association, I am part of a Mutual Interest Group: The Wisconsin Environmental Health Nursing Coalition that is concerned about environmental health issues and supporting the role of the nurse in promoting positive environmental health practices and policies. I teach community health nursing in Milwaukee and work with the community I serve in addressing and advocating for their environmental health concerns and supporting environmental justice communities.

Milwaukee is the fourth poorest city in the nation, with many health disparities and environmental justice concerns. Specific to outdoor air quality, Wisconsin is one of the most coal dependent states in the country. According to the 2011 report, Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People in Illinois by Adrian Wilson, NAACP, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), and the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Valley Power Coal Powered Plant is the 4th highest environmental justice offender in the country. In addition, many of the other high environmental justice offenders are positioned along the Great Lakes, where the currents carry the pollution along the eastern Lake Michigan coast through Milwaukee.

The Valley Plant is located in the heart of Milwaukee, in the middle of residences of low income non-white citizens, with many health disparities. Coal powered plants are known as emitters contributing to poor air quality and to disease. WE Energies, which owns the plant, announced in 2012 a plan to upgrade the plant to natural gas by 2019.

In the meantime, health disparities in the community in which I work continue. Asthma with known air quality triggers is a significant issue, especially among children. As an example, asthma hospitalizations and emergency department visits are 3–4 times that of the state of Wisconsin. According to The Burden of Asthma 2010, a publication from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, in Wisconsin the annual cost of hospitalizations and emergency department visits in 2009 exceeded $86.8 million, a significant cost of healthcare.

We are all entitled to breathe clean air, and as a society, need to work toward the clean air goal that protects the health of all of us, including the most vulnerable. The EPA enforces the Clean Air Act and we need to support, not diminish their ability to protect citizens. It is important to me that our zipcodes do not determine our air quality and our health. We need to follow environmental justice principles, where we all equally share in the protections from hazards from the environment impacting our health. In turn, there needs to be equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which we live, work, go to school, pray and play.

The EPA enforces the Clean Air Act and we need to support, not diminish their ability to protect citizens. It is important to me that our zipcodes do not determine our air quality and our health.

50 States United For Healthy Air

Clean air should be a fundamental right. Air pollution causes asthma attacks, lung disease, and even death. But our bodies don't have to be the dumping ground for dirty industries.

The technology to dramatically reduce harmful air pollution is available today, and major polluters should be required to use it.

Clean Air Ambassadors from every state are sending a powerful message: Everyone has a right to breathe clean, healthy air.

It’s time Congress and the EPA used their ears to help our lungs.