Environment

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Nick Ut/AP

Can Citizen Movements Lead to Cleaner Air?

June 19, 2009 10:30 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
Across the United States, residents of industrial areas are suffering the ill effects of poor air quality, but movements led by journalists and student activists could create change.

Journalists and Students Take Initiative

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Poor air quality in Iowa is putting residents' health at risk. Despite inaccuracies in air quality measurements, which make it difficult for Iowans to know precisely which chemicals have invaded the air they breathe, the fact that poor air quality is contributing to illnesses like asthma is indisputable, according to reports in The Des Moines Register. Although experts say better monitoring and tougher federal standards could improve the situation, in other parts of the country, citizens are taking similar matters into their own hands and making impassioned pleas for immediate change.

West Oakland, Calif., is "a hotspot for childhood asthma" due to its perilous location, wedged between the most hectic port in the Bay Area and two commuter-clogged freeways, according to Newsdesk.org.

Journalist Kim Komenich produced a stirring video called "94607: Oakland's Childhood Asthma Hotspot," available on Newsdesk.org. The video includes interviews with local families and children who are struggling with severe asthma. Longtime residents contend that big-name corporations that have contributed to the problem "should be part of the solution." The video also features commentary from local health care workers devoted to helping schools implement asthma education programs.

The determination of the people of West Oakland has inspired a journalistic uprising of sorts on the community-funded reporting Web site Spot.us. The site features blog posts and a list of organizations, groups and individuals that support West Oakland's fight for cleaner air.

Related Topic: Power Shift brings out environmental activists

In another case of ordinary citizens facing environmental and public health issues head on, the Energy Action Coalition organized a three-day conference called Power Shift. The March event drew about 12,000 people, most of them college students, to Washington, D.C., "to demand that Congress start limiting the country's greenhouse gas emissions," according to Earth Island Institute. Blaine O'Neil, a biology student at Swarthmore College who participated in the event, told Earth Island Institute, "We need immediate and aggressive change; it's simply the only choice we have left."

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Others said the emotionally charged event was just what is needed at this time. Gus Speth, the dean of Yale School of Forestry and the environmental advisor to former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, told Earth Island Institute that members of Congress "don't feel sufficient political pressure."

"I think what we've been missing is a protest movement in this country, a powerful welling of grassroots support," Speth said. "Real citizen power-that has been the missing ingredient."

Background: Dangerous air in Iowa

According to The Des Moines Register, air quality in Iowa is so bad "that the state is perilously close to violating new federal limits aimed at protecting human health."

Although it's difficult to show a direct correlation between a particular corporation's emissions and someone's illness, "the general association between air pollution and various health problems has been shown statistically for decades." The Iowa cities of Marshalltown and Waterloo, considered as possible sites for new coal plants, "had two of the highest asthma-related hospitalization rates in the state" from 1995-2006, The Des Moines Register reported.

In a separate article, The Register spoke with Amy Broadmoore, a former Iowa Environmental Council air quality specialist. She emphasized the need for more efficient monitoring and standardizing of emissions in order for health experts to "better understand the effects of emissions in industrial areas."

"We still have levels that are threatening health in some parts of the state that don't have monitors," Broadmoore told The Register.

Reference: The air where you live

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