Written by Gretchen Alfonso
For mothers, there are four distinct times a year that are met with both sheer excitement and apprehension: report card day. We wait for the school bus to pull around the bend to see whether our kids bounded off the bus with excitement and pride or if they plodded out the door with a heavy heart, afraid to show their low marks to mom. At the end of April, the citizens of Pennsylvania were handed a disappointing report card from the American Lung Association: the 2012 State of the Air report. Unfortunately it is nothing to be proud of; almost 94 percent of counties in the Commonwealth with reportable data were given a C average or below and more than half were given a failing grade of F.
These poor grades are not just letters on paper — unfortunately they translate into very scary facts. For instance, according to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 15 percent of Pennsylvania children have suffered from asthma. In cities and urban areas those numbers are much higher. Pittsburgh was ranked by the ALA’s report as the 4th worse city for asthma-sufferers while in Philadelphia, the 10th most polluted city in the U.S. according to the report, approximately 1 in 4 children suffer from asthma.
Ask any mother of an asthmatic child and she will tell you about the sheer terror in her child’s eyes the first time a nebulizer mask is strapped over his or her face to deliver life-saving medication; her constant worry when the phone rings that it is the school telling her that her child is being rushed to the ER after suffering an attack during gym; and the knowledge that, by choosing to live and work in Pennsylvania, she has saddled her precious children with a lifetime of treatments for a very preventable disease.
As mothers, we would not accept such low marks from our children and we should not accept them for our children. As mothers, we have a slightly different perspective: that our child’s right to clean air and a healthy environment in which to grow and learn is so basic that it should not be controversial, partisan or negotiable.
According to the Clean Air Task Force, Pennsylvania is shelling out $9.4 billion in pollution-based healthcare costs each year; this at a time when our state government is struggling financially and proposing massive budget cuts to education, public libraries, health and human services and environmental protections. Not only is Harrisburg burdened with the high cost of our poor air quality but PA businesses are spending about $6 billion themselves in pollution-related healthcare costs.
Just as with lackluster report cards, there are ways to improve these low marks. There is some hope in our smoggy horizon in the form of the Clean Air Act and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For example, according to the EPA, the “Good Neighbor,” or Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will improve the quality of Pennsylvania’s air preventing up to 2,900 premature deaths and save the state more than $9.7 billion in health costs each and every year. Meanwhile, the Environmental Defense Fund estimates that the recently passed Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will work to reduce pollution, save up to 530 lives and provide about $4.4 billion in healthcare savings benefits to Pennsylvania each year.
These are very real economic numbers for a state that is struggling to make ends meet. But let’s be clear here, when it comes to cleaning up the state of our air no one benefits more than our children. “Mothers knows best” and Pennsylvania moms want an improvement next report card.
Photo credit: Amboo Who?