Air Pollution: Not Just Someone Else’s Problem

Sarah Newman

Guest post from Sarah Newman! Sarah Newman grew up in central Texas and is a recent graduate of Westlake High School in Austin. She has been working at EDF as an intern in the Austin, Texas office and will be attending Cornell University this fall.

As a child, I was never particularly strong or healthy. My parents worked hard to take care of me, but there are some things they didn’t have control over. By age two, I had developed a dangerous chronic disease, which affects more and more children every year. No parents can defend their children from this disease because in part, the disease is exacerbated by pollutants in the very air we all breathe. This lung disease, asthma, affects about one in ten school-age children in the United States, and it stays with us for the rest of our lives.

I grew up living in central Texas using inhalers and nebulizers. Although not everyone has access to these tools, they can help reduce the effects of asthma attacks, especially when the lungs close up and airways become totally constricted. Without this medication, I might have died.

My parents recall staying up with me on one particularly bad night, giving me nebulizer treatments every two hours. When this proved ineffective, my parents had to drive miles to pick up steroids, the only thing that could help me breathe. No child, and certainly no parents, should have to go through this if it can possibly be prevented.

When I got older, there was school, and sports. But when a kindergartener can’t run the length of a soccer field without collapsing to the ground, fighting for air, some of the fun is taken out of PE class. Often I spent time in the nurse’s office, using inhalers and breathing slowly and carefully. But there were plenty of occasions where I couldn’t go to school at all, and when you multiply this by the 7 million children around the country with asthma, it adds up rather quickly. Teachers, nurses, principals, and parents all bear the burden of this disease. This is everyone’s problem.

Another few years, and now I am leaving home for college. When I was visiting some prospective schools, however, I realized that I still had a problem; I simply couldn’t live in New York City to go to Columbia, nor could I spend more than a few days in Los Angeles, no matter how large a scholarship I was offered by USC. Cornell was one of the few schools in an area which cares about pollution, and kept emissions low.

Air pollution will affect me and the 23 million other Americans who have it for our entire lives. All we can hope for is that people will take notice, and do something about it; that by strong action, better emissions standards can help us breathe better and can prevent more families from being afflicted by asthma and its complications.

So look at those around you and think about this disease. Who is being hurt in this way? Whose problem is it, really? Is it your child’s? Your sister’s? Maybe a grandparent’s, or a friend’s? Your students’, or perhaps your teacher’s?

Could it be yours?

And what, exactly, can you do to help?  Around the house, you can make sure your fireplace, stove, and cars are well-maintained. Keep everything up-to-date and it will run cleaner. Also, consider carpooling or using public transportation to reduce your emissions. Even the simple act of recycling can reduce air pollution that results from processing new materials. On a larger scale, support the EPA’s actions in reducing air pollution, such as the upcoming lower ozone standard, so that we can all benefit from cleaner air.

(Statistics from )

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