A day after the Environmental Protection Agency announced new air quality standards, the advocacy group Moms Clean Air Force held its inaugural “Climate Disruption, Air Pollution, and Young People’s Health” summit this week in Washington.
The EPA says the new air quality standards will better protect Americans from particulate matter, or soot, and save lives.
“Air pollution is real. Soot pollution is some of the most dangerous pollution and tightening this standard is not only going to protect our children, and most vulnerable populations — but also healthy people equal a healthy economy,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan told ABC News.
“We did this summit so that we could bring together parents and press — people to understand how children need to be put to the center of the climate conversation. We’re talking about toxic chemicals and air pollution and climate disruption,” Dominique Browning, director and co-founder of Moms Clean Air Force told ABC News. “And children are uniquely vulnerable to these dangerous, dangerous impacts of these things. So, we need to be creating policy and laws that take into account children’s special needs.”
Regan also noted the disproportionate impact air pollution has on communities of color. African Americans contract respiratory illness, including asthma, lung disease and lung cancer, at a higher rate than their white counterparts, according to the National Library of Medicine. The likelihood of getting these diseases, and their severity, increases with exposure to air pollution. It’s an issue Regan says the EPA is addressing.
“President Biden has made environmental justice a central pillar to this Administration. He is the first president to talk about environmental justice during the State of the Union,” Regan said.
“And so with that charge, I have created the first national environmental justice and external civil rights program. Over 200 employees at EPA solely focused on ensuring that everything we do on air quality, water quality, cleaning up our lands, is done in a way where we are protecting our most vulnerable, our ej (environment justice) communities, our Black and Brown and tribal communities. So, I’m really excited about the work of this administration. And through the Inflation Reduction Act, over $3 billion … is solely focused on environmental justice and climate equity,” he said.
The event, held at the National Press Club, drew doctors, government officials, mental health experts and environmental advocates for discussions on the intersection between climate change, air pollution and public health.
Regan noted how his agency has partnered with organizations, including Moms Clean Air Force, to create new environmental standards such as the updated particulate matter pollution benchmark announced Wednesday.
“It’s a very proud announcement that we’ve made, and the partnership with organizations like Clean Moms Air Force, and others, just reinforce the fact that we are trying to protect our children,” Regan told ABC News.
Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton, whose work includes the “Too Small to Fail” initiative for early childhood development, spoke at the summit. She told ABC News that there are many different ways parents can keep their kids safe.
She noted protections against infectious diseases, injuries and school safety drills, adding, “But now we have to think about helping keep our kids safe from climate change.”
Clinton highlighted what parents can do about heat and air pollution.
“Our kids don’t have the same lung capacity that we do to help kind of take in air, clean air, and so they’re really vulnerable to air pollution,” Clinton said. “And so what are we doing to help clean the air with the ventilation in the space and places that we spend time — and what are we doing to help support, hopefully. there being less pollution in the air in the future?”
Liz Hurtado, national field manager for Moms Clean Air Force, attended the event with one of her children, Lena, a child spokesperson for the organization.
Hurtado said they were attending the summit to help “seek solutions and seek stronger protections” on air pollution.
Several members of Moms Clean Air Force stressed to ABC News what they called the organization’s nonpartisan standing.
“This doesn’t have to be a political issue. It really does impact everyone, regardless of parties, regardless of any of your differences that we may see out there,” Hurtado said. “It is an issue that impacts us all, whether we realize it or not, and that’s why we really take pride in the education component, really laying that foundation of education on the various ways that it may impact your community or the state that you’re in.”
“There’s no such thing as blue or red when we’re talking about children’s health,” she added.
Patrice Tomcik, national field director for Moms Clean Air Force, said climate change is personal for her, noting the impact she says she’s experienced at her home in southwestern Pennsylvania.
“There’s a lot of air pollution, and we’re already seeing a lot of the effects of climate change with stronger storms, more flooding — a lot more flooding,” Tomcik said, claiming oil and gas operations in her community are creating a health concern for residents.
“This is happening in my community. And the nearest [oil] well pads are about a half a mile away from my children’s schools,” she said. “When they’re actually doing this drilling for fossil fuels, what is also coming up is climate warming methane, and also other health harming pollutants. And so children who are exposed to these pollutants, such as my son who goes to school near it, it’s really a concern for their health.”
According to its website, the organization currently has 1.5 million members, both moms and dads, working to combat air pollution.
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