Mr. President, Please Save Us From Soot!

By Mark and Lisa Conley

We often describe our son Jake as the canary in the coal mine. That's because Jake has been living with asthma since he was a newborn. His lungs are so sensitive to air pollution that his asthma often flares up just before air quality warnings are broadcast.

Our son's very first New Year's Eve was spent in the hospital emergency room. Thankfully, Jake was far too young to remember, but the memory of that terrifying night still haunts us. No parent should ever have to watch their child struggle for life and breath. Yet after 13 years, our lives continue on this way.

Too often we are left feeling scared and helpless. It's especially heartbreaking when an asthma attack wakes Jake in the middle of the night. On several occasions, he has told us through his wheezing and coughing that he hopes to be able to get back to sleep so that he can attend school the next day.

Jake just wants to be a normal kid. But his disease can keep him from doing the things he loves, like playing soccer or just spending time outside with the other kids in the neighborhood. When ozone levels are high, especially on humid summer days, the best advice our doctor can give us is to keep Jake indoors. The older Jake gets, the more impractical that "prescription" has become.

If we happened to live in a large city like New York or Los Angeles, we'd expect air pollution to come with the territory, but here in Raymond, it's another story. What's most troubling is that here in Maine we know that a clean and healthy environment is one of our greatest assets. Our state policies reflect this value we all share. We were one of the first to adopt clean car technologies; we signed on early to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative; and we require our factories to adhere to some of the healthiest emissions standards in the nation.

Even if every source of pollution here in Maine from cars to factories were somehow shut off, we would still be stuck breathing more than our fair share of dirty air that blows in from coal-fired power plants located as far away as Ohio and West Virginia. Powerful Northeastern wind currents combined with unstoppable weather patterns make us America's tailpipe for dirty air.

While no coal-fired power plants operate here in Maine, soot clouds laced with acid gases, mercury, arsenic and other hazardous elements continually blow in from far outside our invisible borders worsening my son's asthma and sickening others who share his condition.

Sometimes it feels like we are sitting in the nonsmoking section of a restaurant while all the smokers, in this case, smokestacks, are exhaling in our direction. That is why we are anxiously anticipating the President's December 14th decision that would improve national air quality standards for soot pollution. If the President listens to parents instead of polluters, I am confident that Jake's quality of life will improve significantly.

We just want our son to lead a healthy, normal life, but we struggle to make that happen. We pay $1,200 a month just to have basic health insurance for our small family. And we still have to pay a $5000 deductible plus co-pays for medicine. When we have to take Jake to see a pulmonary specialist, those costs are paid directly from our pocket, and they add up fast.

We blame a significant portion of our costly healthcare bills on the corporate polluters who dirty our air and sicken people like Jake who are afflicted with lung disease. Having to constantly live with the worry of when Jake's next asthma attack may occur has taken a tremendous emotional toll on our family.

Without the promise of clean air, we may never be able to live without looking over our shoulders and fearing the worst when it comes to Jake's health. That is why we hope you will join us in urging the President to listen to people with lung disease when it comes to determining the national standard for soot pollution on December 14th.

Until the White House chooses to get tough on soot, simple breathing will remain a struggle for our son.