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Kate Hartwell: Protect the air our children breathe



For the Monitor
Wednesday, November 07, 2018

As a mom, midwife and the owner of a holistic health center, I know how important it is for our children to breathe clean air. A child’s developing lungs are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution and climate change. But today, the health of our children is being threatened. The Trump administration is rolling back lifesaving clean air protections, such as the Clean Power Plan, America’s clean car standards and mercury standards – putting corporate polluters over our children’s health.

The importance of clean air to a healthy child begins even before a child is born. When a pregnant woman inhales air pollution – such as tailpipe pollution – inflammation can occur, disrupting blood vessels in her heart, lungs and placenta. Ultimately, this disruption to blood vessels directly affects a child’s development, and can lead to lasting impacts throughout a child’s life.

The harmful effects of air pollution on a child’s development continue once they’re born. Babies’ lungs are different; they breathe about 40 times per minute, compared to adults who breathe about 12 to 40 times per minute. They also breathe 50 percent more air in proportion to their weight than adults. In fact, children’s lungs continue to develop throughout adolescence – until age 18 for girls, and until the early 20s for boys. In this developmental phase, children’s lungs are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution.

That’s why it’s so troubling that President Donald Trump, along with acting Environmental Protection Agency Director Andrew Wheeler and acting National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator Heidi King, are rolling back critical safeguards that keep New Hampshire’s children healthy.

More specifically, the Trump administration has taken the first steps toward sabotaging the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards, which are aimed at reducing dangerous levels of mercury, heavy metals and other toxic air pollutants released from coal- and oil-burning power plants. Rolling back these lifesaving protections would be particularly detrimental to the health of pregnant women, infants and children, as mercury pollution has been linked with damage to the brain, nervous system and to fetal development.

The Trump administration is also attacking the Clean Power Plan, which set the first federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants – a major source of air pollution – and encourages the development of cleaner, safer energy. The Trump administration’s own analysis found that the Clean Power Plan could prevent as many as 4,500 premature deaths each year when fully implemented in 2030 – more than even President Obama’s EPA estimated. In New Hampshire, the effects of air pollution are magnified. We live in a downwind state, which means that we breathe pollution from coal plants in other states. With the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, we’ll see dirtier air, and more health problems in our children.

Nonetheless, this administration appears to be set on repealing effective, lifesaving protections in order to reward corporate polluters. Take the proposed rollback of America’s clean-car standards. Today, the transportation sector is the country’s largest source of carbon pollution, making the clean-car standards the most effective policy we have on the books to fight pollution from cars and climate change. Rolling back our clean-car standards will allow automakers to make dirtier cars that pollute the air and harm our children’s health. Even the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, which includes members handpicked by the Trump administration, is questioning the “adequacy” of the administration’s scientific justifications for rolling back these standards.

We must do all we can to ensure that our kids are able to grow and thrive. But the Trump administration is working overtime to reward their polluter allies at the expense of our kids’ health. We need to stand up for lifesaving protections such as the Clean Power Plan and America’s clean car standards. Our children’s health depends on it.

(Kate Hartwell lives in Concord. She is a midwife and the owner of the Concord Birth Center and The River Guild.)