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Media: Opinion editorial to the Raleigh News Observer on the importance of clean air

Media: Opinion editorial to the Raleigh News Observer on the importance of clean air

Op-Ed: Raleigh News Observer, June 22, 2017

When your next breath depends on clean air you favor the Clean Air Act

By Beverly Cordes

The 19th annual “air quality report card” released in April by the American Lung Association, called “State of the Air,” showed continued improvement in air quality overall. But I was especially pleased to see that my own county received an “A” for ozone pollution and an “A” for particle pollution.

Indeed, for the first time, North Carolina had a city on the cleanest cities in the country list: Wilmington. Although I reside in Orange County, I am proud of and grateful for the improvement in the air quality of the state. I am also proud of Gov. Roy Cooper for standing up for the Paris accord on climate change to protect the world’s air because that is essential to our present and future health.

Since air is constantly moving, we can’t just think about what it’s like where we are at the moment, for a change in wind direction can be a change in pollution. You see, I have been living with lung disease for years, and on a daily basis I experience firsthand the importance of clean air.

At the age of 27, both of my lungs collapsed; the cause was unknown. Over the years, I tried to figure out for myself and my peace of mind what could have been the cause of this devastating and life-altering event, and concluded that it could have been any number of factors. This occurrence left both me and the medical professionals treating me baffled in determining the cause of and a cure for my lung disease. One option I chose for myself was to stop trying to figure out the cause and to focus on acceptance of my diagnosis of bronchiectasis and how to live my life with pulmonary restrictions, how to function with the limitations on my respiratory system and overall how to live the best quality of life possible with lung disease.

I spent eight years in a pulmonary rehabilitation program working on my health, strengthening my body and striving for a better quality of life. I knew that all the breathing techniques and strengthening exercises that I learned in pulmonary rehabilitation would not be beneficial to me if the air that I breathe is not clean.

I recall an incident a few years ago that always reminds me how important clean air is to all of us, but specifically to someone with lung disease. One day, while out taking my usual walk in the neighborhood (as I regularly do as a part of my ongoing rehabilitation of my lungs), I began to detect a smoke odor. I kept walking, assuming it would go away. But as I turned each corner, the smoke smell became stronger. Ultimately, I could not finish my walk. As I turned the last corner to head home, I realized that someone was burning trash and that I needed to leave the area immediately.

Because I had inhaled some of the smoke, my throat already had begun to tighten up. As the wind picked up and got stronger, the odor of the smoke spread rapidly. I knew it was crucial for me to leave the area as quickly as possible, and yet that was difficult because I was not able to walk fast enough to get out of range of the smoke as soon as I needed to.

As the smoke spread, so did the symptoms throughout my respiratory system. I walked as fast as I could to get to the safety of my vehicle and, needless to say, had to cut my exercising for the day. I’m sure the person burning trash never suspected the harm they were causing to another individual’s life.

This is what my life is like on a daily basis. I am always having to remove myself from situations that may cause harm to my lungs and send me to the emergency room. Unfortunately, breathing air cannot be avoided, and that is why I support the Clean Air Act and appreciate the impact of the improvements de at the state and national levels.

Clean air is so important to me because everything present in the air affects my disease. Unlike other major organs in the body, my lungs are not protected from the outside elements. If the air that I breathe is polluted, then my already damaged lungs take in that polluted air.

Many people like to keep their homes clean from dirt, debris, dust, pollen and the like. They sometimes keep doors and windows closed to keep the outside elements from polluting/dirtying their homes. Can you imagine if I could protect my lungs in the same manner? Quite possibly I could with the continued work done by advocates fighting for clean air. To all of them I say thanks.

I pay attention to the discussions in Washington and Raleigh. I know that the Clean Air Act has played a critical part in cleaning up our air and saving lives, and it’s concerning to know that its funding and enforcement may be at risk.

I call on our nation’s leaders, including U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis and all of our U.S. Representatives in the House, to ensure that the Clean Air Act remains protected, and that the Environmental Protection Agency has the tools and resources to protect us.

Climate change is real: Big and little lungs are depending on it – 20,000+ breaths a day.

In North Carolina, the Clean Smokestacks Act of 2002 has done so much to clean up ozone, and vehicle emissions regulations are reducing particulates, which is critical as our state grows. And as we grow, I think it’s safe to say we all want a strong economy and job growth, but not at the expense of public health, because no one should ever feel like they are drowning in a sea of polluted air.

Beverly Cordes is a volunteer with the American Lung Association, an author and founder of the nonprofit www.breathingforlifeourstories.org.