My Turn: State’s parents demand clean air to breathe

For the Monitor
Published: 9/24/2016 12:09:58 AM

As parents, we want the best for our children. We are lucky to live in a great state that year after year is ranked in the top three for “best place to raise a child.” However, that does not mean our kids are not affected by climate change and clean air.

Children are one of the most vulnerable populations because of the way their respiratory systems develop, and the fact they generally spend more time outdoors than adults. Kids who live below the poverty level are almost twice as likely to have asthma than their classmates coming from middle-class families.

Due to our geography and New Hampshire’s proximity to the Atlantic, our children live downwind to the rest of the nation’s greenhouse gases and emissions. Because of that fact, New Hampshire is more likely to experience heat waves, and coastal and river flooding.

On Saturday, Aug. 27, I attended and spoke at Moms Clean Air Force’s New Hampshire Play-In for Climate Action, as a representative of the New Hampshire Public Health Association. This family-friendly rally was designed to deliver a public message from New Hampshire families: It’s time to get serious about climate change.

New Hampshire children and their parents gathered to show our leaders that they demand a clean and healthy future for our children.

The New Hampshire Public Health Association and the national affiliate, American Public Health Association, have made clean air and climate change a priority. Earlier this year, NHPHA adopted a climate change policy position that recognizes the importance of planning and implementing strategies that protect the public from threats to our water supply, poor air quality, increases in vector-borne diseases, increased risk to food insecurity and injuries due to extreme weather events. These issues affect all of us – especially the most vulnerable, young children, elderly, the poor and those with chronic illnesses.

As a field, public health is measuring air quality, promoting policies to reduce pollutants and toxins in our air and water, raising awareness of the prevalence of vector-borne diseases. We are also trying to improve built environments to support increased use of bicycles and walking instead of driving. We’re working with environmental services, doctors, and employers to promote policies and programs that touch every aspect of a New Hampshire resident’s life, which will improve their respiratory condition.

We don’t just look at climate change through the lens of physical health, but also how climate change plays a role in other factors that contribute to long term health and productivity, such as education and income.

In 2014, the New Hampshire Environmental Public Health Tracking Program published a report estimating that N.H. kids miss 42,000 school days per year due to all asthma-related illnesses. That’s almost $7 million in lost wages for their parents, who may or may not be able to have paid time off to take care of their sick child. Those kids with asthma are also incurring around $23 million in health care costs.

New Hampshire has the opportunity to reduce the asthma burden for close to 9,000 and save N.H. families millions of dollars.

As public health professionals, as parents, as civic leaders, it’s our job to make sure that we create an environment for our children that protects their basic right to clear air, because those 1 in 9 New Hampshire kids with asthma can’t choose where they live, or go to school, or play in relation to areas of high pollution.

How will we know when we’ve achieved success? We’ll know when we see New Hampshire’s prevalence of childhood asthma decrease. We’ll know when we see the rate of emergency room visit and inpatient hospital stays decline.

Childhood is supposed to be a time when kids are unburdened by chronic disease like asthma – and it’s up to us to remind those making policy that our kids’ health, productivity and economic contributions of tomorrow depend on the decisions we make today. Thankfully, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which sets the first federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants, puts us on track toward those goals.

(Shasta Jorgensen of Concord is a member of the New Hampshire Public Health Association and New Hampshire affiliate representative to the American Public Health Association.)

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