The sun is shining here in Oakland, and you can feel summer in the air. In my neighborhood, and all across America, kids are anxiously awaiting the final ring of the school bell. But not every child is looking forward to summer. Some will be trapped indoors during the next few months, unable to play outside because of their asthma attacks. Like many kids, I had asthma growing up so I know how hard it is to be stuck inside while everyone else plays.
Too many kids in our country suffer from asthma. It's the number one chronic childhood disease in our country, and the leading cause of missed school days. It's also one of the top reasons children end up in the hospital. And in many cases this illness and others like it could be avoided by having cleaner air and water that's free of pollutants and toxins.
But this disease doesn't reach everyone; in fact people of color are hit the hardest. More than half of all African Americans live in neighborhoods where the air quality doesn't meet federal standards. And one in six African American kids has asthma, compared with one in ten nationwide. That's a rate that should be unacceptable in any nation as wealthy and technologically advanced as ours.
The saddest part is that these kids don't have to suffer. We could prevent 130,000 asthma attacks just by cleaning up one of the dirtiest sources of pollution: coal-fired power plants. But it's not just asthma we have to worry about. Coal plants fill our air with chemicals that lead to heart disease, cancer, birth defects, and early death.
The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to keep us safe from these chemicals; late last year, they issued long-overdue Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to clean up the worst pollution from coal plants, including toxic mercury.
Coal plants pump about 48 tons of mercury into our air each year. To put things in perspective, just one-seventieth of a teaspoon of mercury is enough to contaminate an entire lake, making the fish in it too dangerous to eat. When mercury gets into the water, it ends up in our food chain, and then our bodies. Pregnant women pass it along to their babies, where it interferes with their development and causes brain damage.
Many families could be spared this pain if we simply told polluters that they would no longer be allowed to dump mercury into our air and water. And the EPA estimates that cleaning up coal plants will prevent roughly 11,000 premature deaths each year.
Just one example is seven-year-old Heavynlynn from Kansas City, who is growing up near a coal plant that is filling the air in her community with poisonous toxins. There are thousands of other stories just like hers -- that illustrate the true cost if we delay the implementation of these critical standards.
But sadly, corporate polluters and their allies in Congress -- like Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) -- are trying to roll back the EPA's common sense safeguards. Why? So coal executives can make more money.
That's right: The coal industry thinks it's okay to saddle school children with debilitating asthma and give babies birth defects -- as long as they can make a few more dollars in the process.
How long are we going to let them poison our kids?
It's not just our health that would benefit from these EPA standards. Cleaning up pollution from coal plants alone would create an estimated 46,000 new jobs. That's 46,000 of our neighbors and friends who would be able to wake up each day and be proud to go to work. Forty-six thousand people bringing home paychecks to support their families.
If that's not enough, consider this: The standards will save us money. For every dollar spent to cut pollution, we would get back $5 to $13 in health benefits.
Right now, I'm thinking about all those little kids -- especially in poor neighborhoods -- who want to play outside this summer, but can't, because the air is too dirty or their lungs are too weak. And I just can't make sense of a country that would trade children's lives for corporate profits.
That's why Green For All has joined with NAACP to send a clear message to our leaders in Congress: They can stand on the side of polluter profits, or they can stand on the side of American kids, by protecting the EPA's mercury safeguards.
You can stand on the side of kids, too.
Follow Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins on Twitter: www.twitter.com/phaedrael