Your Voice Matters

Join the Campaign for Healthy Air

Physicians and other health care practitioners continually witness firsthand the effects poor air quality has on their patients’ health from trouble breathing to severe asthma attacks and even myocardial infarctions.

In the clinical setting, a physician can only treat one patient at a time, but by working at the public policy level, physicians can have an even broader impact on the health of all patients – including themselves.

And while we treat patients and teach them how to protect themselves, we should not ignore the powerful forces working to weaken the Clean Air Act. It is more important than ever to take a few minutes to stress to policymakers the need to safeguard the tremendous success of this lifesaving public health law. In 2010 alone, the Clean Air Act was responsible for preventing more than 160,000 premature deaths.

Peggy Pennoyer, MD, an Allergy and Immunology specialist practicing in Portland, Maine, has worked with the American Lung Association for almost two years to advocate for healthy air at the state and federal level. Although people often picture Pennoyer’s home state of Maine as pristine, natural wind currents push air pollution from power plants as far away as the Midwest up through the Eastern Seaboard and into Maine, causing an especially high number of poor air quality days there.

 “It’s by no mistake that Maine has earned the unsavory title of America’s tailpipe,” said Pennoyer.

As a physician dealing almost exclusively with respiratory issues, Pennoyer says that she was “thrilled” when the American Lung Association of the Northeast approached her about becoming a volunteer advocate.

In her role as an advocate, Pennoyer meets with elected officials, participates in press conferences and writes to share the medical community’s concern about the state of the air we breathe. She believes that physicians have a powerful voice in the fight for healthy air and hopes to see more of her colleagues get involved through the American Lung Association to ensure policies enacted to protect public health remain strong and reflect the most current health science.

Physicians can leverage both scientific knowledge and personal stories to help influence the enforcement and creation of vital healthy air policy protections under the Clean Air Act. Members of the medical community have an unmatched credibility when speaking with lawmakers on scientific and public health issues that most others do not possess because of the high level of trust associated with our profession.

Perhaps most powerful is a physician’s ability to share front-line observations of what patients living with serious lung diseases must endure.

“Younger patients are especially powerful examples,” notes Pennoyer. “Kids who can’t play sports or go outside on poor air quality days feel the burden of pollution deeply. These are often the same kids whose asthma keeps them home from school when the air quality is poor. Air pollution can interfere with their academic success as well as their social development.” explains Pennoyer.

The American Lung Association provides extensive support to physicians who wish to join the campaign for healthy air.

This “good backing and good support,” says Pennoyer, means that even the busiest physicians can have the chance to make their voices heard. She adds, “You’ll be surprised how easy it is to jump right into it. If you do it once, you’ll do it lots.”

“We have an obligation to stand up for our patients’ health,” emphasized Pennoyer. “There is no pill or other effective medical remedy to combat the debilitating health consequences associated with breathing dirty air. I’d rather advocate for strong healthy air policies than to tell my patients their only option is to stay indoors when the air quality index is not in the favor.”

If you agree that staying home and closing the windows is not an effective air pollution control strategy, contact Effie Craven (Maine) at ecraven@lungne.org, Annie Rushman (Massachusetts) at arushman@lungne.org or Art Handy (NH, VT, RI, NY, CT) at ahandy@lungne.org to learn how you can get started as an advocate for healthy air. Your voice is vital.