Secondhand Smog: A Mom’s Struggle

By Rachael Lemire Murphy, Moms Clean Air Force Guest Blogger

Raising two young children with asthma can only be described as a balancing act of epic proportions. There is no formula that tells us how long we as parents should wait to see if our child’s late night asthma attack will resolve with treatment at home or will become serious enough to require yet another sleepless night spent in the hospital emergency room. When we do choose the “wait it out route,” I almost always find myself second guessing my decision along with the reliability of my motherly instincts.

Fortunately, we are one of the lucky families to have health insurance, so we are never without access to emergency care. Yet even with insurance, our co-pays add up quickly and often require our family to make sacrifices in other areas of our budget, particularly in the columns pertaining to savings and fun.

While it’s easy to feel frustrated and helpless at times, I know that cleaning up air pollution from coal-fired power plants would have a tremendous impact on my children’s health and quality of life. Living in Massachusetts means strong wind currents continually pushes air toxics from power plants far outside our state’s invisible borders into our vulnerable communities.

Essentially, power plants have been given the green light to dump their garbage into our backyard. This steady stream of dangerous pollutants helps form the smog that thickens the air we breathe during the warm summer months. Breathing this harmful pollutant can trigger severe asthma attacks, worsen other lung disease symptoms and even cause premature death. While my family would never sit in the smoking section of a restaurant, by virtue of our geography, we have instead found ourselves living in America’s tailpipe for secondhand smog. It angers me that every day my children are stuck breathing someone else’s dirty air.

The Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges the severe impact secondhand smog has on families like mine and is battling against big corporate polluters to implement the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which will require power plants to finally cleanup their smokestack emissions so as not to harm downwind states like mine.

It is estimated that up to 390 lives will be saved each year in just Massachusetts if those in Congress who are working to advance the agenda of corporate polluters are not given the opportunity to block, weaken or delay timely implementation of this very necessary healthy air safeguard.

As a working mom, engaging in politics is just not something I have ever had much time for. Knowing that the health of my children is on the line though, I have made it my mission to speak out against those who have made poisoning the air we breathe part of their normal course of doing business.

Keeping my children hidden indoors to avoid the constant barrage of secondhand smog we face is not in any way a practical option. Yet, the medicine my children must take to control their asthma symptoms also comes with its own set of troubling consequences.

My oldest daughter Mia who is now 6 years old has a far more severe case of asthma than my 3 year-old son. Her pediatrician often prescribes a five day course of steroids whenever Mia experiences a major fare-up of her symptoms. Mia calls these pills “the crying medicine,” because they cause her to have nightmares, angry outbursts and episodes of uncontrollable tears. Sadly, Mia is now old enough to comprehend the emotional toll this medicine has on her psyche. In the absence of other effective options, we fear Mia may soon resist taking this medicine thus making her asthma even more difficult to manage.

Mia’s last asthma attack rarely fades far into the rearview mirror as the invisible clock counts down to her next attack. Recently, Mia had such a severe asthma attack that blood vessels in her eyes burst from her coughing. There really are no words to describe how helpless and terrified I feel when I watch my children struggle just to catch their breath.

It’s also heart breaking when family members we don’t get to see often comment on Mia’s appearance. Because her frequent coughing frequently causes her to lose sleep, Mia often looks pale and is almost never without purple circles under her eyes.

Yet behind those sleepy eyes is a bright, vibrant girl who deserves a future where her health is not jeopardized by air pollution, especially the secondhand smog that victimizes children and families like mine in 26 other states. I will not rest until these corporate polluters cleanup their smokestacks. Every child deserves the right to breathe healthy air. For mine, it’s a matter of life and breath.

Thank you, Rachel and Mia!


About the Author:
Rachael Lemire Murphy juggles her career as a speech therapist while raising two young children with asthma— three-year-old William and six-year-old Mia.  A passionate clean air activist, Rachael is an active volunteer for the American Lung Association in Massachusetts. When Rachael is not busy fighting for air, she can be found taking long walks, visiting the park with her children or jogging around the Charles River near her Cambridge home.



Past Member
Past Member 6 years ago

What about those toxic chimineas? Neighbors are burning just for the fun of it while the air is getting polluted. You can't get a breath of fresh air and everything smells of smoke. Wood burning stoves are bad enough, but there is a heating component to it and some people have no choice but to heat with wood. However, the chimineas are just for recreation and should be banned.

Jamie Clemons
Jamie C6 years ago

We need more solar and wind and less coal and oil fired plants. Oh and less nuclear too.

peggy p.
peggy p6 years ago

clean air, clean water, clean food

Chad A.
Chad A6 years ago

If we are going to have a market economy, why don't we include the actual costs of all choices in the pruchase price and see if that helps. I suspect polluting plans would install cleaner technology and we would all be the better for it.

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran6 years ago


Xxx R.
X R6 years ago

I have an article on breathing I'd like to send Rachael. How do I do that?

Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

How sad for Rachael and her beautiful children. We will keep signing petitions and doing what we can to stop the fouling of our environment. It would help to look at a politician's voting record and make sure that we choose someone who puts his money where his mouth is. OWS is working hard to try and make people realize that the people in charge now do not care about you or the health of you family. Only about money and power.
Thank you for you sharing your story, Rachael, and I hope it makes more people realize how serious the threat to our health is tied up in who they vote for.

Marilyn NOfwds D.
6 years ago

The smog in Los Angeles was making me very sick, so we moved to a clean little town in the desert and I feel and breathe so much better!!
Smog is terrible for children and people with allergies and asthma.

Susan N.
Susan N6 years ago

Great post. Good luck.

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers6 years ago

Clean air should be a priority for all governments. What is the use of paying out billions on national defence and then letting your citizens die from pollution, toxicity etc.?