Recently, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., voted against dismantling America’s Clean Power Plan. This vote is in line with the continuous support he’s also shown in protecting the Great Lakes. As a constituent of the senator, a resident of Illinois and a mother of young children, I want to thank him for his support on issues that have such a direct impact on our air quality and children’s health.
Also recently, Kirk joined a coalition of fellow Republicans, Senators Kelly Ayotte, N.H., Lindsey Graham, S.C., and Lamar Alexander, Tenn., to voice pro-environmental concerns. I — and the 30,000 Moms Clean Air Force members in Illinois — were encouraged that the Illinois senator recognizes the importance of climate action. Kirk has been protecting the Great Lakes from waste and sewage dumping through a recent initiative that he co-sponsored, and knows we need policies in place that seek to improve public health by standing up for clean air protections.
The air we breathe in Chicago is polluted by waste from coal-fired power plants, chemical plants, and the constant traffic of trucks and cars on the arterial tollways and interstates that run through and around our homes and businesses. The air we breathe may not be as visible to our residents and visitors as the gorgeous blue Lake Michigan water, but its destruction affects us all. Coal-fired power plants are the source of 72 percent of all mercury air pollution in the United States. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that affects pregnant women, unborn babies, and young children. Through the water cycle, that mercury builds up in the water and animals of our beautiful lake. Mercury pollution from the burning of fossil fuels is a problem that is equally important to pollution from microbeads and wastewater, and is certainly worth Kirk’s attention.
Along with mercury pollution in our water, pollution from the burning of fossil fuels produces ground-level ozone, or smog, that lies over the city like a blanket. For our children who suffer from asthma — and 13 percent of Illinois children do — smog pollution can cause increases asthma attacks and respiratory illness. In some neighborhoods, even some here in Lake County — nearly one in every three children have been diagnosed with asthma — making the pollution in our city a dangerous public health issue.
In addition to the public health impact of air pollution, the estimate of only the direct costs for asthma hospitalizations in 2007 was $280,400,000. What is not included in that alarmingly high cost are the impacts on education from missed school days along with the economic impacts from lost productivity and incomes of parents and caregivers when their children suffer asthma attacks.
America’s Clean Power Plan will help our families breathe easier, and it will reduce greenhouse gases being released in the atmosphere and help slow down climate change. A few weeks ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics called climate change a public health crisis. The plan will provide health co-benefits by reducing the dangerous pollution emitted right alongside carbon dioxide, including soot, smog and mercury.
There’s a connection between clean air and a better, healthier future for our children.
Kelly Nichols is a clean air advocate who lives in Highland Park.
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