As a pediatrician I do everything in my power to make sure my patients have the best start to their lives as possible. From nutrition to vaccinations, I want to help set these children on a successful, healthy life. Given all that, it is infuriating to know that no matter what we do for our youngest patients, air quality is something that I cannot control.
Growing up in Colorado and spending so much of my time in the outdoors, the quality of our air is deeply personal. As a physician trained in public health, I also know how our environment impacts our health on a daily basis. Children are the most vulnerable members of our community and therefore bear the greatest burden of any environmental health risks.
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Poor air quality has been an issue for some time now, not just during the haze we all breathed nearly every day last summer. In my work in both clinical medicine and public health, I’ve seen first-hand how air quality impacts health outcomes, particularly individuals from disproportionately impacted communities who live in the most polluted ZIP codes along the Front Range. Improving air quality isn’t some ambiguous concept; by limiting what polluters pump into our sky and making new, targeted investments in every community in order to reduce emissions, we can directly improve the health of Coloradans.
We’ve known for years how damaging air pollution is to young lungs — asthma rates are high and rising, and other respiratory illnesses are triggered and made worse by high levels of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. These high levels of pollution can become concentrated near highways and busy streets, making it even worse in some of our state’s frontline communities. From taking care of children in the hospital who require admission to the intensive care unit for asthma-related respiratory failure to working with families in the clinic to add stronger and stronger medications to control their child’s asthma, it’s impossible to not look for large-scale solutions that could help my patients.
We’ve known for years how damaging air pollution is to young lungs.
Emissions need to be regulated today, not a few years from now. State leaders need to know that Coloradans are dying and spending too much money because their representatives waited to act. Polluters need to know that simply reporting emissions does nothing to help our air quality. Emissions need to be regulated so our children aren’t forced to breathe a lifetime of harmful air. We know that toxic chemicals are extremely hazardous to children, contributing to reduced lung function, COPD and chronic asthma. Additionally, some of the air toxins emitted are known to cause cancer. For too long polluters have gotten a pass, but a new investment in air quality monitoring and regulation is currently being debated at the state Capitol. These programs could finally start to effect change and benefit the air we breathe across the state.
The new investments will focus on our transportation sector (which is now responsible for the most carbon emissions in the state), building and housing efficiencies and new investments in air quality monitoring and regulation. I support this innovative proposal, because it will make numerous investments that will not only help Colorado meet its ozone and greenhouse gas goals but provide new assistance to communities that will lead to immediate emissions reductions.
This package benefits every Coloradan in some way, including incentives to buy electric school buses so children aren’t breathing harmful diesel fumes from a 30-year-old bus. It also includes money for electric bikes and ride shares, energy improvements in affordable housing and much more. It will also seriously tackle industrial emissions in a way that creates stronger permitting, compliance, enforcement and oversight for air quality regulators. These are programs that don’t require years for us to see benefits.
Improving Colorado’s air quality in order to protect the health of our most vulnerable needs to be a priority supported by our state representatives and senators.