By Sean Palfrey, M.D., November 15, 2013
Every time 8-year-old Mia leaves the house to play outside with
friends, her mother, Rachael, worries that her daughter might suffer a
serious asthma attack. Although she knows it would be unfair and
unhealthy to keep Mia trapped inside every day after school or prevent
her from participating in sleepovers and school field trips, it is
sometimes hard for Rachael to let go of the memory of Mia’s early years.
Mia, like an ever-increasing number of Massachusetts children, has had
to endure more than her fair share of severe asthma attacks. During one
attack, she coughed so hard that she burst blood vessels in her eyes.
Although these attacks are somewhat less frequent now, countless visits
to the emergency room hardened her family to the harsh realities of
raising a child with asthma, which can be deadly at worst and terrifying
Because air pollution can be a recipe for disaster for Mia, Rachael
continues to be vigilant about checking air quality forecasts and has
often changed her family’s plans if an unhealthy air quality day is on
the horizon. On days when the air quality is going to enter the code
orange or red zones, Rachael knows it’s safer to keep Mia indoors than
to risk her having an acute asthma attack.
One in 10 people in the Bay State suffers with asthma, which is higher
than the national average. We are seeing and treating an increasing
number of children, like Mia, whose lives could be so much safer,
happier and more successful if only we could only write a prescription
for healthy air.
While those of us in the medical community do not have the power to
write such a prescription, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) does. Much to its credit, the EPA has finally taken necessary
steps to clean up the most prolific stationary source of air pollution
in this country – coal-fired power plants. No other industry produces
more carbon pollution and, as temperature trends continue to rise, the
dangers of carbon pollution increase exponentially because of this
simple equation: Heat plus carbon pollution equals smog.
Nearly a third of our state’s residents live in failing or near-failing
air quality zones, according to the American Lung Association’s 2013
State of the Air report. Massachusetts is not only threatened by
pollution from its own coal-fired power plants but from other downwind
sources that grant us the loathsome distinction of being know as America’s “tailpipe.”