Written by Sarah McBride
Moms organizer Jennifer Cantley (above) lives in Carson City, Nevada with her three kids. They love to spend time outside, and with Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada mountains right next door, they have easy access to some of the most beautiful views in the West. But when wildfire smoke pours into their community, those mountains disappear and the air becomes toxic to breathe. Polluted air is especially hazardous to Jennifer and two of her boys, all of whom suffer from asthma.
The family shares their story in a new Good Morning America (GMA) segment and ABC News article that highlight the connection between climate change, air pollution, and children’s health. Joey, Jennifer’s son, says: “When you get an asthma attack, it’s hard to breathe, so your lungs feel like someone’s grabbing them.” Since air pollution can trigger asthma attacks, Jennifer and her family have to stay inside when the air quality is poor: “When the smoke comes in and we start seeing these beautiful Sierra mountains behind me disappearing, it’s… really hard because we’re having our beautiful view taken away from us. But at the same time, now that means we’re going to be back indoors and we can’t leave for sometimes… a whole month.”
Staying inside for weeks on end is really hard on Jennifer’s kids. As she recalled to the Nevada Independent this summer, they were “literally climbing on the walls, but it was safer than having them play outside in the smoke.”
Wildfires are only one source of harmful pollution near Jennifer’s home. Between highway traffic, heavy-duty diesel vehicles, and industry, high air pollution days aren’t limited to wildfire season (which now extends through most of the year, due in part to climate change). The threat of air pollution is constant, which is why Jennifer fought for her community to receive an air quality monitor. Her advocacy efforts were a success– a monitor now stands near Jennifer’s home, providing data that helps her family make proactive decisions about how to protect their health.
ABC News’ Chief Meteorologist Ginger Zee closes the GMA segment with a reminder that “Hope…is a verb. And that means it takes action.” Moms like Jennifer work hard to put hope into practice by standing up every day for their children’s right to clean air and a liveable climate. Jennifer tells GMA: “My number one goal is making sure not only my children, but the future generations, have clean air, clean water, and public lands.”
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Like Jennifer, our Michigan organizer Elizabeth Hauptman has also been an outspoken advocate for air quality monitoring. Elizabeth recently emceed a roundtable about EPA’s historic investment in air quality monitors that was covered by Michigan Radio. She says that more data will fill current gaps: “These monitors are going in areas that haven’t been monitored before.” Expanded access to data helps individuals make informed choices about their health, but Elizabeth emphasizes that it also helps communities advocate for policy changes that protect people from polluters.
In Colorado, residents can sometimes see that the air is unhealthy to breathe just by looking outside their window. Moms organizer Shaina Oliver tells Denver 7: “We don’t see too many blue skies anymore. It’s really brown here in the metro area of Denver. And that has a great impact on my asthma, to where I have a hard time breathing.”
Shaina joined other clean air advocates outside the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment last week to call on the state’s Air Quality Control Commission to do more to address Colorado’s air pollution problem. Shaina says: “We shouldn’t have to spend so many days indoors just to survive.”
2022 IN REVIEW
Between testifying at EPA hearings, meeting with lawmakers, and pushing for the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act at each and every step along its winding journey through Congress, it’s no surprise that Moms garnered over 1,000 media hits this past year. Here’s a look back at a couple of highlights
- Back in January, Moms organizers Hazel Chandler and Karin Stein were featured in a New York Times article about the burden of air pollution on older adults after a major study found that breathing low levels of pollution significantly increases the risk of death for older Americans. Hazel says: “Sometimes we have several pollution days in a row, and I don’t need to look at the air quality alerts anymore… I can tell by the pressure in my lungs and in my chest.” Karin says that her family is affected by air pollution too, even out in rural Iowa: “It’s idyllic. But you have the Western wildfires, or it’s harvest time. We assume that there are no air quality issues. But that’s simply false.”
- After EPA announced in late October that school districts in all 50 states and Washington, DC would receive funding to replace dirty diesel school buses with zero-pollution electric models, Public Health Policy Director Molly Rauch released a celebratory statement that was quoted in AP. Molly writes: “It doesn’t make sense to send our kids to school on [diesel] buses that create brain-harming, lung-harming, cancer-causing, climate-harming pollution. Our kids, our bus drivers and our communities deserve better.″ Molly’s quote ran in hundreds of outlets in both English and Spanish.
- Just before the 2022 Midterm Election, our EcoMadres Program Manager Carolina Peña-Alarcón penned a powerful Newsweek op-ed about her excitement to vote in this country for the very first time. Carolina shares her story and journey to citizenship, urging fellow Latinos to cast their ballots: “Whether we were born in this country or became citizens through the naturalization process, we are all Americans. Voting is a right, a privilege, and a civic duty.”
- National Manager for Healthy Equity Almeta Cooper and Environmental Defense Fund’s Tonya Calhoun co-wrote a Word In Black op-ed urging Georgians to vote for kids, climate, and public health in the December 6 runoff election. The op-ed recently ran in the Sacramento Observer.
- Our Senior Legislative Manager Melody Reis is quoted in Senator Jeff Merkley’s press release about the newly-introduced Protecting Communities from Plastics Act. She says: “Plastic is harmful at every stage of its life cycle from extraction to disposal, contributing to climate change, releasing toxic chemicals, and finding its way into our bodies – even the bodies of newborn babies. The Protecting Communities From Plastics Act will reduce our reliance on unnecessary plastics, protect the health of the families living in the fenceline communities located near plastics facilities, and expand our understanding of the effect of plastics on the human body.”