This post was written by Candace Lavin for the Mansfield Patch:
Antonia remembers the day clearly when her five-year-old son was playing outdoors and suddenly was unable to catch his breath. “The look of fear and bewilderment in my son’s eyes was as frightening as his inability to catch his breath,” she said.
After an initial moment of panic, Antonia quickly realized her son was having an asthma attack and she was able to bring his symptoms under control with his medicines. Her son had been diagnosed with asthma as a toddler and today, as a vibrant and healthy eight-year-old, his asthma is generally under control. However, Antonia has to remain vigilant because it can be triggered by any number of factors.
That’s why Antonia, a Mansfield resident, was alarmed recently when she learned that the American Lung Association had released its annual State of the Air report and Bristol County had dropped from a D to and F for ozone air pollution. Ozone, better known as smog, can trigger asthma attacks.
“Just imagine breathing through a straw and struggling to get more air and you will understand what is is like to suffer from an asthma attack,” she said. “People sometimes take asthma too lightly. For some children, that puff on an inhaler or access to a home nebulizer isn’t enough and they need to be rushed to the emergency room.”
Nearly 130,000 children suffer from asthma in Massachusetts. Asthma is a leading cause of emergency room visits, hospitalizations and missed school days.
Antonia is also familiar with this disease through her work as the program director for the Massachusetts Association for School-Based Health Care and as a volunteer board member of the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Massachusetts.
She was instrumental in getting both organizations to join the Massachusetts Healthy Air Campaign, which advocates against any weakening of the Clean Air Act, a federal law designed to control air pollution. The Healthy Air Campaign, which consists of thirty Massachusetts health organizations led by the American Lung Association, was created in response to repeated attempts to roll back or delay clean air protections in Congress.
Antonia recently spoke of her experiences at a press conference to release the State of the Air report, which revealed that, while air quality has improved somewhat across the Commonwealth, more needs to be done to protect residents from the harmful effects of air pollution. Six counties received an F, two a D, and three a C, for ozone pollution, which is an improvement over last year. “If my son came home with those grades there would be questions asked and consequences,” Antonia said.
The high level of ozone pollution experienced in Bristol County comes from local sources, like car exhaust or wood stoves, as well as out-of-state coal-burning power plants. Massachusetts has the misfortune of being located at the “tailpipe” of the nation, with pollution being carried in with the air currents. “Our best solution to protect ourselves from the harmful health effect of breathing toxic air is the Clean Air Act, which makes sure that power plants cut down on the pollution they produce,” Antonia said.
Antonia feels lucky that her son’s asthma is under control, but she worries about him playing outside on hot days when ozone pollution is the highest. “I just hope that our Congressional delegation will help keep my son and other children like him in mind when they are considering bills that would harm or reduce the standards in the Clean Air Act,” she said. “If anything, the current clean air regulations need to be strengthened and not weakened. Our children deserve the right to breathe clean air.”
Those interested in learning more about the Healthy Air Campaign can visit Fighting For Clean Air.