On the Road -- to Clean Air -- With the Giant Inhaler
It's a bird! It's a plane! It's… the giant inhaler!
Yes, a giant inflatable inhaler—commissioned to be built by the Sierra Club for its Beyond Coal Campaign—has been making the rounds recently, from the Keystone State to the Lone Star State, the Badger State to the North Star State, helping drive home the point that air pollution from coal-fired power plants exacerbates asthma and a host of other health problems.
The giant inhaler is on tour to reinforce the message that we need stronger air pollution protections from the EPA. The agency is expected to announce updated protections from smog sometime this summer, and families want to show that we need to protect our kids from coal-fired pollution that contributes to smog and makes asthma attacks worse. One in ten American children currently suffers from asthma.
The inhaler made its public debut on July 14 in Philadelphia, above and below at left, where Pennsylvania Beyond Coal organizers William Kramer and Rachel Martin joined representatives from the Clean Air Council and members of the public on Independence Mall. An American Lung Association report released this April gave Philadelphia an "F" in air quality.
That's former pre-school teacher Katie Mosher, above left, who said stricter standards would improve everyone's lives, including one of her former students. "It's hard for me to explain how hard and scary it is as a teacher to listen to a child struggle to breathe at nap time without a way to help," she told CBS Channel 3 News.
At right, above, Texas Sierra Club interns pose with the giant inhaler. The Texas Beyond Coal campaign has been working to stop construction of the proposed White Stallion coal-fired power plant in Bay City, near Houston. The Sierra Club held a July 19 rally and press conference in Houston, below, to release a recent MIT study showing the potential health impacts of the White Stallion plant, and the affect it would have on Houston's already-poor air quality.
Lone Star Chapter organizer Donna Hoffman and Texas Beyond Coal organizers Lydia Avila and Eva Hernandez were joined at the rally by the author of the report, Houston's vice-mayor pro tem, and a physician from the American Lung Association. Over its lifetime, the White Stallion plant would lead to an estimated 600 premature deaths and $5.5. billion in health care costs.
Later that week, the inhaler made an appearance on the shores of Lake Michigan at a press conference in Milwaukee put together by Wisconsin Beyond Coal organizers Michelle Rosier and Emily Miota. The Sierra Club and local ally Clean Wisconsin have filed suit to clean up the dirty Valley Power Plant in downtown Milwaukee, which emits 700 million pounds of particulates and 2.8 billion pounds of carbon dioxide each year but lacks an up-to-date air permit.
From there the inhaler traveled to Pittsburgh, Pa., below, where it appeared with Club organizers Randy Francisco and Rachel Martin, local environmental allies, and scientists from the University of Pittsburgh in calling for support of the EPA's new rules for reducing ground-level ozone, a primary component of smog to which coal pollution is a major contributor.
"Pittsburgh sits in a ring of dirty coal-fired power plants that are choking our families," Francisco said at the Pittsburgh rally. "No one ever had an asthma attack because of a solar panel or a wind turbine. Clean energy sources like wind and solar are already available. It's time we begin our transition to clean energy and for the EPA to adopt tough air quality standards to protect our neighborhoods."
Added Dr. Evelyn Talbott: "Pittsburgh is consistently one of the worst regions in the nation when it comes to air quality and pollution. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there are 25,000 children and over 78,000 adults in Allegheny County who have asthma. With adverse health impacts such as reduced lung function and increased risk of premature death from heart or lung disease, it is clear that stronger ozone standards are needed to better protect public health."
The first weekend in August saw the inhaler back in the Midwest, where it embarked on a 3-day barnstorming tour of Minnesota thanks to Minnesota Beyond Coal organizers Joshua Low and Jessica Tatro. In Minneapolis, Rochester, and Duluth, activists and concerned citizens appeared with the inhaler at press events near polluting coal plants to help raise awareness about air pollution in the state.
"We're here today because pollution from burning coal and oil causes asthma and makes kids sick," Rochester resident Mark O'Byrne, above, told KAAL-TV ABC News in the shadow of that city's Silver Lake Power Plant. "It's definitely concerning as a parent." Standing behind O'Byrne are (L to R) Sierra Club organizer Joshua Low, Rochester City Council Member Sandra Means, Sierra Club intern Nick Elger, Mayo High School student Kirian Somers, and Petra Mayo Clinic Cardiologist Kofronova.
"Current emissions restrictions could expire if the EPA waits too long [to finalize this year's emissions levels]," began the station's coverage that evening. "Groups like the Sierra Club are doing everything they can to prevent that from happening."
The giant inhaler will be making three mid-August appearances in Virginia—in Virginia Beach, Richmond, and Alexandria—before moving on to Tampa, Florida, and Little Rock, Arkansas. In September it travels to the west coast for the first time, for a big Coal-Free Washington event with labor and community groups in Seattle. The Port of Seattle is the biggest source of air pollution in the city, and parts of Seattle have some of the worst air quality in the country.