What's Asthma Like? Try Breathing Through a Straw

Sarah Bucic, props in hand, defends right to breathe before Congress

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Last month, Sarah Bucic—a nurse from Delaware—went to Washington, D.C. as part of the “50 States United for Healthy Air” event to defend the right to breathe clean air. Today, she went back to do it again.

Midway through her testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sarah—who testified on behalf of the American Nurses Association—pulled out a straw and held it up. It was skinny, the kind you might use to stir your coffee or tea—a toothpick passed through one end would more likely get stuck than fall through the other side.

Air doesn’t fare much better. During an asthma attack, Sarah said, a person’s airway constricts to roughly the size of that straw. In nursing school, she and her classmates were instructed to pinch their noses and breathe only through the straw to simulate what an attack feels like. Her demonstration was a powerful moment.

Sarah doesn’t have asthma, so the straw exercise is as close as she gets to experiencing it. But for nearly 25 million Americans—7 million of them children—asthma is a daily struggle. And air pollution, the focus of the hearing at which Sarah testified, can make it much, much worse.

One of those 25 million who suffer from asthma is the youngest son of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who was also present to testify before the senate committee. No doubt her message was colored by this personal connection to respiratory disease. Her agency’s efforts to reduce toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants are expected to prevent 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms every year.

The benefits to health don’t end there. As many as 17,000 premature deaths will be prevented every year as well, adding to the already remarkable figure of 160,000 lives saved by the Clean Air Act’s health protections in 2010.

This and other health protections are the reason that Sarah and her fellow Clean Air Ambassadors traveled to D.C. for the 50 States event. Her continued efforts to defend our right to breathe, including this latest act of testifying before Congress, are much appreciated. Below is a short interview I did with Sarah after she was done testifying.

Be sure to check out Sarah’s Clean Air Ambassador profile.

Sam Edmondson was a campaign manager on air toxics issues from 2010 until 2012. He helped organize the first 50 States United for Healthy Air event. His desire to work at an environmental organization came from the belief that if we don't do something to change our unsustainable ways, we are in big trouble.