A recent study linking breast cancer to environmental factors confirmed many of the already well known links to breast cancer. It shows a “possible association” between breast cancer and exhaust fumes. As a three year breast cancer survivor, I am haunted by this new connection. I can’t help but think about how many times I have been on my bike at a light, both alone and with my family, behind a car sucking in exhaust fumes. It makes me feel frustrated to learn that the very activities that I do to stay healthy might be putting my family at a greater risk.
I prefer riding my bike over driving a car. Even on mornings when I pull back the curtain to find it gray and snowing, I pack my messenger bag, get bundled up and ride ten miles to my downtown office. If I hook a trailer to the back of my bike, I can also go grocery shopping, or drop my son off at school. Pedaling through the beautiful early morning dawn fills my spirit; it makes me feel awake and alive. For our family, biking is one way we create a healthy and sustainable life for ourselves.
The more I learn about Ohio’s poor air quality, the more I realize that a blue sky does not mean we have clean air. Why does Ohio have some of the most toxic air in the country? Why did we allow it to get this bad? When we have the technology to reduce emissions, why is that car in front of me still releasing chemicals that, among other things, potentially cause cancer? For those of us who suffer the daily health effects of air pollution, government regulations are coming too slowly. I don’t want to teach my son that he should settle for poor air quality and all the health issues that are associated with it.
My husband and I believe that being good parents means we need to teach our child the importance of conservation as well as making healthy sustainable choices–that is why we bike. What if other people in our community made a greater effort to use a bike rather than a car even just once a week? When we pedal instead of drive, we show the next generation that there are alternatives to consuming fossil fuels or contributing more CO2 to our environment.
I know that there are people who can’t ride bikes. But even getting more organized to conserve energy–like making thorough shopping lists so that we drive for errands once rather than three times a day–makes a difference not only in our air, but in our wallets. Conserving energy–using those resources like the precious things they are–saves money! Our actions will teach them that riding our bikes and spending time outdoors makes us stronger and healthier both mentally and physically. I know when my little boy asks me why we are riding bikes, we have conversations about why everyone should care about their health as well as the health of our environment.
I realize that I live in a state that has some terrible air quality issues and within that state, I am living in an urban area where there are even higher concentrations of air pollution. In spite of all of this, each day, I will continue to ride my bike and make other sustainable choices because I love my son and I want him to see how the actions of one person can make a difference. As more people allow simple changes like riding a bike to become part of daily life, big changes really could happen in our environment.