Dear EarthTalk: Who are the “Clean Air Ambassadors” and what are they trying to accomplish?
— Brenda Coughlin, Pittsburgh, PA
Clean Air Ambassadors are everyday folks from across the U.S. who have committed to speaking up for everyone’s right to breathe clean, healthy air. The effort is part of the “50 States United for Healthy Air” campaign, a joint endeavor of Earthjustice, the American Nurses Association, the Hip Hop Caucus, the National Council of Churches and Physicians for Social Responsibility. In the spring of 2011 these Ambassadors—people from all 50 states and every walk of life—convened in Washington, D.C. to ask members of Congress, leaders at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and high-ranking officials in the Obama administration for stronger protections against air pollution.
Earthjustice, which specializes in litigating on behalf of environmental causes, initiated the effort as part of its larger “Right to Breathe” campaign. “Every year, many people young and old get sick because of air pollution,” reports Earthjustice. “Clean air should be a fundamental right.”
According to the American Lung Association (ALA), the most widespread kinds of air pollution are ozone (smog) and particle pollution (soot). “When inhaled, ozone irritates the lungs, resulting in something like a bad sunburn within the lungs,” reports the group. “Breathing in particle pollution can increase the risk of early death, heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits for people with asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.” In its 2012 “State of the Air” report, ALA reports that 127 million Americans—some 40 percent of our population—live in counties where either ground-level ozone or particle pollution is frequently at dangerous levels, despite significant progress in cleaning up the nation’s air since 1970.
While there are many sources of air pollution, dirty power plants are among the biggest culprits. The ALA reports that over 400 coal-fired power plants across the country “are among the largest contributors to particulate pollution, ozone, mercury, and global warming.” In 2011, the EPA issued the final rules that will cut the emissions that create ozone and particle pollution and, for the first time, set national limits on the toxic pollutants they can emit. While Earthjustice and other groups have challenged the EPA for not going far enough, the ALA is defending the plan as significant enough to warrant implementation.
Of course, everyone can play a part in cleaning up air pollution. The ALA recommends driving less, using less electricity, refraining from burning wood or trash, and making sure local school systems require cleaner school buses. Even better, get involved: “Participate in your community’s review of its air pollution plans and support state and local efforts to clean up air pollution.” Finding a local air pollution control agency is now as easy as steering a web browser to the National Association of Clean Air Agencies’ 4cleanair.org website.
While there are no plans for another visit to Washington, D.C. by Clean Air Ambassadors in the near future, concerned citizens can do their part and join thousands of others in signing on to Earthjustice’s “Right to Breathe Declaration” that calls on the federal government to require major air polluters to utilize existing technologies to significantly reduce the amount of air pollution coming out of their smokestacks.