If I were granted “special mom powers” to give my fellow mothers everywhere three gifts to benefit the health and future of our children, my priorities would be simple. My first gift would be clean air for all. No child should struggle to breathe, and yet, too many Black children gasp for breath and suffer from asthma at disproportionately higher rates than their white peers. Next, I would give equitable access to safe places for families to live, play, work, and worship. It is unjust for any family to live near or on heavily polluted areas, but with more than one million African Americans living within half a mile of an oil and gas operation, our communities are impacted more acutely. Finally, I would give the gift of climate action to ensure our children live long, healthy lives free from the threats posed by climate change.
Climate change is now, it is real and it is making the air we breathe more polluted. The American Lung Association recently released the 20th-anniversary edition of their State of the Air report, and the troubling trends of declining air quality prove once again, that we must act. The report finds more than four in 10 Americans live in counties that received at least one ‘F’ for unhealthy air. Hardest hit are African American communities, where more than 6.7 million live in a county that is home to a refinery and 68 percent live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own scientists have found that the health burden of particulate air pollution is 54 percent higher on African American communities as compared to the overall population. Simply put: breathing while black is a hazard to our health. This report is yet another wake-up call for Black parents to use our voices to demand climate change action for the health and future of our communities.
What You Can Do
While these findings are concerning, it’s not too late to act. First, you can monitor the air quality in your area on a regular basis. The American Lung Association provides tools and resources to find this information by simply typing in your state or zip code. Knowing the quality of the air can be the difference between letting your children play outside or keeping them indoors during poor air days. It can save you time, money and peace of mind from those unintended trips to the doctor for asthma attacks and other chronic air problems. You deserve to know if the air your child breathes is safe.
“As parents, our number one job is to keep our children safe from ALL harm, climate change included.”
Further, I encourage parents to learn about and support policies that help promote clean air and combat climate change. As a former EPA official, I know the power that parents’ voices can have on keeping and improving public health and environmental protections. Unfortunately, the Trump administration is turning its back on our health and climate by attacking key safeguards – including the Clean Power Plan, the clean car standards, and the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards – which our communities rely on to protect us from dangerous air pollution. For the sake of our children and families, we must fight this administration’s anti-health and anti-science agenda at every turn. As National Field Director with Moms Clean Air Force, I am pleased to work with the more than a million diverse moms and dads in our membership to help provide resources and support for understanding the impact of environmental protections on our children’s health.
“The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own scientists have found that the health burden of particulate air pollution is 54 percent higher on African American communities as compared to the overall population.”
It brings me such joy to watch my son run and play freely outside without a care in the world. It also scares me to know that among the many things he must contend with as a Black child, I must add air pollution and climate change to that list. As parents, our number one job is to keep our children safe from ALL harm, climate change included.
We must take time to recognize that a determined mother’s actions come from a place of love, hope, and a moral obligation to ensure that future generations are left with a healthy planet and a bright future. Together with our collective power and determination, we can use our “special mom power” to realize this fact for our children and grandchildren.
Heather McTeer Toney, a mom, wife, and triathlete, is National Field Director for Moms Clean Air Force, a community of moms—and dads—united against air pollution. Formerly she served as Regional Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the first African American and youngest mayor of Greenville, Mississippi.