Activists hold rally for clean air

Activists sign Clean Air Promise.
  • Activists sign Clean Air Promise.

But what’s so bad about a little smoke? Ozone, a main component of the toxic smog, forms when a cocktail of gases like nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds, methane and carbon monoxide marinate in the sun. The ozone comes from coal-fired power plants, gasoline vapors and the Floridian’s favorite mode of transportation: automobiles. We then breathe this smog, which burns our airways, reduces our lung function and results in more hospital visits.

And this is where the issue hits close to home. The American Lung Association recently gave Hillsborough County an ‘F’ for its ground-level ozone pollution. Using air samples from 2007 and 2009, the report cites the 21 days where ozone layers were high enough that meteorologists issued health warnings and school was cancelled. Out of all the counties in Florida, Hillsborough County received the most health warnings.

Dr. Lynn Ringenberg, a USF Emeritus professor of pediatrics and a member of the Physicians for Social Responsibility Tampa Bay, is especially concerned with smog’s effect on children. According to the EPA, asthma affects 1 out of every 10 school children and is the top illness that causes children to miss school. “I really am concerned about our children’s health.” said Ringenberg. “If we don’t start reducing these pollutants and start looking at sustainable energy, we’re going to leave our kids in a big mess….It’s not a Democratic issue, it’s not a Republican issue, it’s a people issue.”

Because of the Clean Air Act, the EPA must put public health above the cost to the industry when making its standards. Certain Republicans would argue against the EPA’s regulation, citing that it would hurt job creation in a turbulent economy. But Compton does not believe that job creation and clean air are mutually exclusive. He cites the statistics from the Sierra Club’s press pamphlet:

Between 2000 and 2008, employment increased by 4% and between 2001 and 2008, GDP increased 22%. During this time, the AQI improved 16% for ozone, 31% for summer ozone, and 9% for particulates. Asserting that clean air and a healthy economy are not compatible is simplistic -and just plain wrong.

Trying to link clean air and a healthy economy, whether good or bad, appears to create more correlations, but no definitive proof of causation. But one thing is certain —50.3% of people living in the U.S. breathe in dangerous levels of air pollution. Growing up with asthma, Kristen Rogers, chair of Suncoast Pediatric Coalition, explains how asthma can affect one’s daily life. After a particularly bad episode during her honeymoon, she was officially diagnosed with asthma and now works to raise awareness for early prevention. “People who grow up not knowing anything different than not being able to breathe don’t understand what they’re missing.” said Rogers. “It sounds cliché to say, but it feels like taking a breath of fresh air…It is life-changing.”

This Wednesday, clean air advocates held a rally in downtown Tampa to support the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) updated air quality standards which will be announced by the end of the month. According to the EPA, proposed updates to reduce mercury pollution from power plants will “prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year, in addition to 120,000 asthma attacks and about 11,000 cases of acute bronchitis among children annually.”

With children starting school and the EPA’s impending decision, Phil Compton, organizing representative for Sierra Club Florida Regional Office, believes that the rally is an opportune moment to raise awareness and gain signatures for the Sierra Club’s Clean Air Promise. After speeches by concerned residents and members of the Suncoast Pediatric Asthma Coalitions, members were encouraged to sign the petition and get involved.

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