On World Asthma Day, advocates of the need for cleaner air in Connecticut and for those suffering from respiratory health issues gathered at the state Capitol to call for reforms. Our state's commissioner of public health, Dr. Manisha Juthani, Dr. Mark Mitchell of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice and representatives from the American Lung Association gathered to tell stories like those of the Campos family, whose children struggle with asthma and health issues caused by breathing pollution and poor air quality.

The struggle for clean air in Connecticut is complicated and has wide disparities between different communities. Those in cities and near highways are breathing in emissions and pollution. We've known for decades that smog causes adverse health issues, like heart and lung disease, and exacerbates chronic respiratory problems, even leading to premature death in some instances. As a pulmonologist, I've seen my patients suffer directly from dirty air; as a legislator, I've watched bills addressing this issue fail to pass through the legislature.

We know we have a problem, yet we still do not act, as many still suffer — and people of color suffer worse. It's time to sound the alarm. Not only does our state fail federal standards for ground level ozone and smog, but our most populated counties are breathing dirty air. The American Lung Association gave Fairfield County an F for high ozone days; Hartford County received a C, and there's a chance that score drops in the near future, as its rate of unhealthy air days increased. Hartford even reached a list of the top 25 cities with the highest ozone levels in the country, which is devastating for public health.

The issue only becomes worse when looking at the disparity of these effects. Asthma is an equal opportunity health condition that can impact anyone, but statistics routinely and regularly show that cities, which have larger populations of minorities and people of color, as well as lower-income residents, are more widely impacted by these issues. The ALA reports that Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Stamford and Waterbury, Connecticut's five largest cities, hold 18 percent of the state's population, but more than 40 percent of the state's acute car charges for asthma. Not only are these impacts worse for already disadvantaged communities, but they inject a preventable problem into our public health systems, putting further pressure on them amid already challenging circumstances.

Why haven't we taken action yet? Part of it is how our society has been built — where the disadvantaged aren't considered. In 2020, the Yale School of Public Health issued a report that said energy, transportation, land use, planning, food, agriculture and socioeconomics all contribute to climate pollution. That means, the way our communities are built — where communities of color and low-income neighborhoods are exposed to higher pollution because we build highways and power plants near them — are directly contributing to public health concerns and drawbacks. It provides a clear explanation for higher rates of asthma in impoverished communities. 

When experts are increasingly drawing attention to the harsh truth that climate change will not just impact our environment but every facet of our lives — public health among them, with higher temperatures and thicker ozone working together to increase pollutants in the air we breathe — the need to take action grows further and further.

This comes when Connecticut, often known for its lush forest greenery and dedication to environmental protection, is not on track to meet needed, if not necessary, climate goals. Our fellow states are making strides further than us. We can do better. We must.

As chair of the Public Health Committee, I hear the concerns from people around our state and am committed to addressing their needs. We must take action before it is too late. With weeks left in the legislative session, there is still time to consider and advance proposals to help attain the state’s reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Legislation under consideration includes acts to better reach the state's zero-carbon emission goals, establish a carbon budget for transportation in the state and establish targets for sector-specific reduction goals.

It is not too late to act. We can improve life for those with asthma and protect young children and future children from developing the condition in the first place. We can work to clean our air for the benefit of us all. But the clock is ticking.

State Sen. Saud Anwar, a Democrat, represents the Third District, which includes the towns of East Hartford, South Windsor, East Windsor and Ellington. 


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