Keep Valley Kids in School, not the Asthma Clinic
(September 9, 2015)
As I watch my patients getting ready to start a new school year, I am hopeful for their futures but know that many of them will lose school days due to asthma, the leading cause of school absences in California.
Every morning, parents and families of over 100,000 kids in the San Joaquin Valley wake up knowing that they may struggle to breathe due to asthma made worse by polluted air. More than one in five of our region’s kids have been diagnosed with asthma. We need strong leadership from the state to solve our air quality problems. The good news is that Senators Kevin De Leon and Fran Pavley have authored legislation, Senate Bill 32 (Pavley) and Senate Bill 350 (De Leon) that will help California reduce bad air days and keep more kids in the classroom. These bills are supported by health organizations and health professionals like me throughout California.
Cleaning up the air is personal to me. My young patients live with the knowledge that they have to carefully follow air quality alerts and plan out their days to avoid putting their health at risk. Unfortunately, good planning can be overwhelmed by bad air days that derail good health.
According to the American Lung Association in California, Fresno and Madera Counties, where I practice medicine, are in the top ten list of areas with the most particle pollution in the United States. On an annual basis, we breathe more particles deep into our lungs than anyone else. That is shocking to me.
It is even more shocking that the lung association’s report shows our county’s air getting worse compared to last year’s report. In fact, all eight Valley Counties had more unhealthy days for particles reported, and Valley cities top the list of the most polluted cities in the nation.
Every day, four Valley residents will die because of polluted air. 1,300 of our friends, relatives and neighbors every year lose years of life because the air here is not healthy enough – not even close.
We can’t accept this, our kids’ health and their future is too important. When children’s lungs are filled with polluted air, they can face both immediate and life-long challenges.
We know that the burdens of unhealthy air affect everyone in the Valley, but especially our children, seniors and those in disadvantaged communities. Many Valley communities are facing multiple burdens of polluted air, local pollution hotspots, low socio-economic status and health disparities based on income and race.
Air pollution health impacts cost billions every year, with recent estimates of $11 billion annually to the state due to particle pollution impacts. Air pollution costs families directly through medication, lost work days to care for kids out of school, not to mention the stress of watching a loved one struggle for a healthy life. But we can cut these costs dramatically as we shift from harmful fossil fuels to cleaner alternatives.
Democrat, Republican or Independent every member of the Valley’s legislative contingent knows that their constituents are suffering due to the poor air. Valley leaders are also keenly aware of the challenges residents and businesses are facing due to heat waves and drought, but they may not always understand the connections to increased pollutants in our air.
Climate change impacts like extreme drought conditions are making the job of clean air that much more difficult. In fact, 25 California counties – including all 8 Valley counties – saw increased levels of particle pollution this year according to the lung association report, and this is largely due to drought conditions.
We are ground zero for climate change in California – we see it with the drought, wildfires, record heat, and rising seas threatening the delta and our water supplies. Climate change health impacts are here now and are caused by our dependence on polluting fuels.
California’s leadership on clean air and climate change are critical to our health and the health of our future in the Valley. SB 32 (Pavley) and SB 350 (De Leon) take critical next steps to clean up climate pollution and make our air healthier by establishing goals to reduce our dependence on polluting fossil fuels and move to cleaner more sustainable options.
I support Senate Bill 32 and SB 250 because I believe that they will help me keep kids with asthma out of my office and in their classrooms where they belong as well as keeping their parents at work.
These bills simply help us plan for healthier communities and a healthier future, something all of our leaders should support for us, our children, our parents and grandparents as well as the future generations to come.
Author: Dr. Praveen Buddiga, Baz Allergy Asthma & Sinus Center and Volunteer, American Lung Association in California