This article is written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey and published with permission by Grand Rapids Family Magazine/Gemini Publications, April 2012.
Local mom Starla McDermott has enlisted with Moms Clean Air Force to protect kids’ rights to clean air.
Some people who go on vacation are content to click a few photos, get a suntan, snap up a handful of tourist-trap souvenirs and return to the daily grind.
Then there’s Starla McDermott.
In July 2009, McDermott toured the Hopi Indian ruins in Sedona, Ariz., with her daughter and two sons. She returned to her Grand Rapids home with an armful of books about the Hopi nation and a new sense of purpose.
“Their beliefs really hit home,” said McDermott, 42. “The longer we protect the earth, the longer we can keep her safe. I always knew I wanted to be working for a nonprofit, but I didn’t know the route.”
Her experience in Sedona provided her with the direction she sought. After 18 years in sales and marketing in the natural foods industry, earlier this year McDermott became the Michigan field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, a non-partisan initiative of the Michigan Environmental Defense Fund launched in March 2011.
MCAF’s mission is to educate and engage moms, dads and others to continue to support the Clean Air Act that President Richard Nixon signed into law in 1970 and thus protect children’s respiratory health. It’s harnessing its efforts with some of the most respected medical associations to strengthen kids’ rights to clean air: the American Lung Association, the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatricians and the American Nurses Association.
“We want to engage and educate moms and dads on the importance of clean air, and the health aspects of pollution — particularly mercury and lead in areas where high amounts of pollution come from coal power plants,” said McDermott.
Coal-fired plants are the primary source of mercury air emissions in the United States. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin — a poison that acts on the nervous system — and can harm fetuses and the developing brains of young children, according to MCAF.
Moreover, pollution from Michigan’s oldest nine coal power plants costs residents $1.5 billion annually in health care costs and damages — the equivalent of more than $500 for a family of four, according to a 2011 report by the Michigan Environmental Council.
MCAF’s plan of action starts with some basics that include meet-and greets with residents and government officials, said McDermott.
“There are a lot of people who are afraid of losing their jobs with existing energy, but there are jobs that are starting to move the other route with newer, cleaner energy: natural gas, wind, solar power,” said McDermott.
“Michigan wants to be on that forefront of cleaner air and renewable energy. So we’ll do some home health parties. We’ll have letter-writing parties to politicians and have play dates where politicians’ aides can talk to us and hear what moms want for their children.”
To help move MCAF’s mission along, McDermott is a student at Grand Rapids Community College with a study focus on public administration for nonprofits. She plans to transfer to Grand Valley State University’s downtown Grand Rapids campus either next fall or spring 2013.
She doesn’t regret chucking her former sales job.
“It was a lot of travel,” said McDermott. “I was gone every night and it wasn’t enjoyable, and I’m one of those people where I have to enjoy my work. Some people do the same job over and over again, but I was miserable.”
“But not anymore.”
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a freelance writer living in Grand Rapids.
Photo: via Kind Over Matter