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Opinion Piece printed in the Salt lake Tribune May 19, 2007
by Cherise Udell
As a mother of two small children, I was horrified by the dangerous quality of our air this past winter. On red alert days I felt as if I was locking my daughters in a windowless room full of chain smokers. And sure enough, a new group called Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment held a press conference last month confirming that that’s exactly what we’re doing to our children.
Breathing Salt Lake City’s dirty air during a winter inversion is the same as smoking half a pack of cigarettes. The image of my baby with a cigarette dangling from her toothless mouth was enough to move me to action. Utah Moms for Clear Air was born that day with a simple but heartfelt email to about 100 moms inviting them to join together to make Utah’s air cleaner and safer. The response has been phenomenal. In three short weeks, Utah Moms for Clean Air is almost 300 strong, and counting. Utah Moms has already made our voices heard at the Air Quality Board hearing on the health affects of pollution, and held our first public meeting in which over 100 moms (and dads) attended.
Air pollution harms the most vulnerable, especially children whose lung function can be forever damaged. Air pollution has been linked to SIDS, premature birth, heart failure and childhood cancers. But all of us are at risk. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment estimates that 1,000 Utahns die prematurely each year as a result of our dirty air, and warn that we are facing “a public health catastrophe” in the foreseeable if air pollution levels persist.
Mothers are in a special moral position to advocate for a clean air. Our intent is simple: to ensure that our children, whose lives are entrusted to us, have a healthy environment in which to grow and flourish. Cooping them up indoors to avoid toxic air outside is not the solution.
As the Utah Physicians argue, we do not tolerate dangerously contaminated food, nor dangerously contaminated water, so why do we tolerate dangerously contaminated air?
There are concrete steps we can take to make a change. We support a ban on vehicle idling around schoolyards and reducing the speed limit to 55 on acutely polluted days (which will increase fuel efficiency of cars by about 22%). Along side the Utah Physicians, we are also challenging the building of four new coal-based power plants slated for Utah, and will encourage government leaders to create new incentives for cleaner transportation and lifestyle choices.
We have also encouraged individual responsibility such as installing a programmable thermostat, eliminating one car trip per day (the average American family takes 4 to 5 car trips per day), signing up for Blue Sky renewable power (utahpower.net); and doing a home energy audit (utahcleanenergy.org). As for myself, I will do the above as well as trade-in my Cherokee jeep for a hybrid by the end of the year.
We are, after all, entrusted with our children’s lives and health, and as a society we are failing to protect them. We deliberate over car seat models and the right foods to feed our kids. We study the latest child development information, investigate schools and choose appropriate after-school activities. We often agonize over our children’s safety, worrying about crime and abuse and accidents. Yet the way we are living is permanently damaging our kids’ health. Convenience should not trump our children’s well-being; nor should industry profits. We can choose to behave differently; Utah’s children are depending on us to do so.
Please visit our website: utahmomsforcleanair.org or send an email to supermoms@utahmomsforcleanair and join the effort to clean up Utah’s air.
Founder, Utah Moms for Clean Air
“Dirty air harms our most vulnerable population – children,” Cherise Udell, op-ed, Salt Lake Tribune, May 19, 2007.