07/20/2012 10:15 am ET | Updated Sep 19, 2012

Soot Hearings: Speaking Out for Public Health

I grew up in the Smoky Mountains, where -- believe it or not -- dangerous levels of air pollution sometimes made it dangerous to hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Since becoming a mom two years ago, I know that I pay more attention to those "code red" and "code orange" days when the air pollution makes it dangerous for many kids to play outside. Well, soot is one of the main pollutants that triggers those air pollution alerts. Soot is an air pollutant caused by burning fossil fuels like coal, and it's known to cause respiratory illness, heart attacks and even premature death, according to the American Lung Association.

Philly crowd - photo by Kim Teplitzky

Here is what Jackie Wilson (pictured below with a sign showing that Philadelphia ranks 10th worst in the nation for deadly soot pollution), a volunteer with the Philadelphia Sierra Club, had to say at Tuesday's hearing: "On hot, humid days like today we are especially at risk from air pollution like soot, which poses a serious threat to our children and people with asthma like my young nephew. I've watched him deal with the challenges of not being able to breathe well first-hand. We're here today to show our support for stronger limits on soot pollution that will clean up our air and mean healthier families in Philadelphia."

Philly sign - Photo by Kim Teplitzky

Children and the elderly are most at risk from dangerous soot pollution, which can cause premature death, and is linked to a long, scary list of health problems including heart disease, lung disease, heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, asthma, chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function, irritation of the airways, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Soot pollution is estimated to cause 9,700 hospitalizations and more than 20,000 heart attacks each year.

Philly stroller brigade - Photo by Kim Teplitzky

At Tuesday's hearing, supporters of the new, stronger Environmental Protection Agency soot limits held a rally with a mom's stroller brigade that marched from the hearing to Independence Mall to show support from moms and parents who are worried about their children's health.

We were proud to be part of broad coalitions in Philadelphia and Sacramento that came together for these public hearings.

At yesterday's hearing in California, many families, children, doctors, and others testified. One mother spoke about losing her daughter to an asthma attack. "Nothing prepares you for the death of your child," she said. "Clean air is a matter of life and death."

Rocio Martinez, a local health advocate whose two kids have asthma, also spoke. "It's difficult to see these families with respiratory problems."

We will continue speaking up for the Environmental Protection Agency's public health safeguards.We urge you to send in your supportive comment today!