Editor’s Note: The following blog item, written by Earthjustice “Clean Air Ambassador” Alexandra Allred, first appeared on The White House blog.
Early in his term, President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized an important health-protective standard that cleans up the smokestacks of cement plants, among other things, to better protect my son! This is very important to us as we live in Midlothian, Texas, the “Cement Capital of Texas,” where three cement plants spew dangerous pollutants that can trigger asthma attacks, cause neurological damage, destroy organs, damage the nervous system and much more.
If you read my son Tommy’s book, How I Met the President, you will learn that he developed chronic asthma from breathing toxins in the air from our local cement plants, and as a result, met the President. While our experiences did not unfold that simply, as Tommy likes to say, “That was how we met President Obama!”
My son’s elementary school was recently identified by USA Today as one of the most toxic elementary schools in the United States. In fact, in 2004, nearly 800,000 lbs of various kinds of toxic pollution were released into Midlothian’s air, land, and water, including over 1,000 lbs of mercury, 119,000 lbs of lead, 58,000 lbs of benzene, 89,000 lbs of toluene, and 600 lbs each of styrene and naphthalene. Once we learned what was being released by our local plant smokestacks, the rare cancers, birth defects, and upper respiratory diseases that plague our town began to make sense. In the meantime, our Texas politicians demonstrated little to no concern.
In protest, my family and I traveled to Washington D.C. in 2007 to speak with Texan Senators and Representatives but were ignored by our Congressional members. We had a 10:00 a.m. confirmed appointment with legislative staff, and were instead forced into the hallway to speak with an intern. As we stood disheartened in the hallways of Congress, the unexpected happened: We were invited to a “meet and greet” with then Senator Obama. A Senator all the way from Illinois was actually willing to meet with us about our air quality in Texas! It was at that session that Tommy had the opportunity to meet and speak with our future President about his struggles living with asthma. Then-Senator Obama even shared with Tommy that his own daughter had asthma. Somebody was listening! Somebody cared!
As the daughter of a retired Army colonel and Vietnam veteran, I have seen how wonderful our country can be. I do not understand how any American can question, let alone undermine, the efforts of their fellow citizens to keep our air pure and clean, keep our citizens safe and healthy. This was not just a fight about my son’s health or that of other children. This had become a fight about doing what is right, and Tommy has also taken a stand by writing his book titled, How I Met The President.
It is a book about protecting and defending our rights as Americans and Tommy is a great little American who still struggles to breathe. But he stood up for millions of other Americans who are also suffering from asthma. And on May 2, 2011, I returned to Washington D.C., but this time, was joined by more than 80 Clean Air Ambassadors from all 50 states and Puerto Rico, and members from Earthjustice.
Right now, most Americans are worried about the economy, but what often is left out of the economic picture presented is the money saved by setting standards that protect public health. For example, if the EPA required industrial power plants to clean up their pollution, it would save this country up to $50 billion in medical costs. While saving money, we’d also be protecting the public, saving as many as 6,500 lives and avoiding 41,000 asthma attacks every year. My son and thousands of children just like him would have cleaner air to breathe and a healthier future.
We appreciate all that the Obama Administration has done thus far to protect public health. There is much hard work that remains to be done ranging from establishing a health-protective ozone standard to finally cleaning up coal ash dumps. For the sake of our country, we hope more politicians will be motivated by the principles upon which this country was founded rather than corporate interests. It may not be easy, but even Tommy knows that standing up for what you know is right will yield results. In the words of this administration, “Yes, we can!”
Alexandra Allred is from Midlothian, Texas