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July 19, 2012

Soot Hearings: Speaking Out For Public Health

Philly crowd - photo by Kim Teplitzky
On Tuesday, hundreds of Philadelphia residents rallied and spoke at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing on new safeguards to cut deadly soot pollution nationwide. Today, many more will rally at another soot hearing in Sacramento.

I grew up in the Smoky Mountains, where - believe it or not - dangerous levels of air pollution sometimes made it dangerous to hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Since becoming a mom two years ago, I know that I pay more attention to those "code red" and "code orange" days when the air pollution makes it dangerous for many kids to play outside. Well, soot is one of the main pollutants that triggers those air pollution alerts. Soot is an air pollutant caused by burning fossil fuels like coal, and it's known to cause respiratory illness, heart attacks and even premature death, according to the American Lung Association.

Here is what Jackie Wilson (pictured below with a sign showing that Philadelphia ranks 10th worst in the nation for deadly soot pollution), a volunteer with the Philadelphia Sierra Club, had to say at Tuesday’s hearing: "On hot, humid days like today we are especially at risk from air pollution like soot, which poses a serious threat to our children and people with asthma like my young nephew. I've watched him deal with the challenges of not being able to breathe well first-hand. We're here today to show our support for stronger limits on soot pollution that will clean up our air and mean healthier families in Philadelphia."

Philly sign - Photo by Kim Teplitzky

Children and the elderly are most at risk from dangerous soot pollution, which can cause premature death, and is linked a long, scary list of health problems including heart disease, lung disease, heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, asthma, chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function, irritation of the airways, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Soot pollution is estimated to cause 9,700 hospitalizations and more than 20,000 heart attacks each year.

Philly stroller brigade - Photo by Kim Teplitzky

At Tuesday's hearing, supporters of the new, stronger Environmental Protection Agency soot limits held a rally with a mom's stroller brigade that marched from the hearing to Independence Mall to show support from moms and parents who are worried about their children's health.

We were proud to be part of that broad PA coalition helping support these safeguards, including the Clean Air Council, Citizen's for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture), Pennsylvania Conservation Voters, PennEnvironment, Interfaith Power and Light, Mom's Clean Air Force, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, and more.

The hearings continue today (Thursday) in Sacramento, California, starting at 9am PT, where huge crowds will again turn out to support these smart public health safeguards from the Environmental Protection Agency. You can follow along using the Twitter hashtag #SootKills or by watching the @SierraClubLive and the American Lung Association in California (@CaliforniaLung) Twitter accounts for live tweets.

Otherwise, send in your comment today!

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. Photos by Kim Teplitzky - see more on Flickr.

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