By Jacob Carter, Union of Concerned Scientists
“That week, her mother chose groceries over her daughter’s asthma inhaler. Food for your children over medicine for your children; for a parent, there is not a more tortuous game of Russian Roulette than this. That week, this mother lost that gamble. Her daughter had an asthma attack. There was no inhaler. She died gasping for air in their living room.”
These are the words of Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. of the Hip Hop Caucus as he describes the disproportionate impact climate change has on black communities, particularly children. In this case it was a 14-year-old girl who lived in Southeast Washington, DC. The reverend explains here that 1 in 6 African-American children in the US have asthma, and 68% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a power plant.
The Reverend Yearwood’s story is one that I cannot shake ever since I heard it in-person when he spoke to the Union of Concerned Scientists nearly one year ago. It is a powerful story that illustrates that when science-based issues are poorly addressed, the results can be deadly, particularly for children and our country’s most disenfranchised people.
Yet, the Trump administration has made it easier for these power plants to release toxic air pollutants known to cause asthma and other disease. This administration is literally deleting scientific evidence that climate change disproportionately affects the health of children. And then last week, they abruptly placed the director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Children’s Health Protection, which has the authority to weigh in on decisions around power plant emissions and many other public health threats, on leave. These decisions paint a worrisome picture for the future of the safety of children as UCS Executive Director Kathleen Rest detailed here.
When science is sidelined, there is often an underlying story of the people who are hurt by these decisions and it is often children.
Impairing children’s brain development
When the EPA reversed course and decided not to ban the harmful insecticide chlorpyrifos, many families worried about their children and their health. Fidelia Morales notices chemicals float onto her children’s jungle gym in their very own backyard in California. Her children have had learning issues, and have suffered from bronchitis, asthma and other chronic illnesses. Morales fears the pesticides are the reason for these illnesses. There is a good chance that she is correct given that the swath of research showing chlorpyrifos affects the brain development, IQ, and health of developing and young children.
Children are losing parents
In 2017, President Trump rolled back President Obama’s Executive Order 13690 that would have increased protection from future extreme floods. Such floods are expected to increase in frequency and intensity with climate change, science that Obama’s Executive Order embraced, but that President Trump refuses to acknowledge. Ten days after Trump’s rescission of this executive order, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Texas with historic rainfall causing unprecedented flooding. The floods left an estimated 30,000 people in need of shelter.
One mother made the ultimate sacrifice saving her child during the floods of Harvey. A woman and her 3-year old child were swept out of a parking lot by the flood waters of hurricane Harvey. Two police officers spotted a child clinging to their mother in a canal. When the police arrived at the scene, the mother was unresponsive and pronounced dead shortly after arriving at an ambulance, whereas the child suffered from hypothermia but was cared for and released to family members in stable condition. What if we recognized the threats of climate change and prepared for them? Maybe this child could grow up knowing their mother.
Children lose when vaccines are lost
President Trump has on many occasions misrepresented overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe. In 2015, when asked about getting the flu vaccine during an interview, Trump said, “I’ve never had one… Thus far I’ve never had the flu. I don’t like the idea of injecting bad stuff into [my] body, which is basically what they do.” Such statements have bolstered the movement of people who refuse to vaccinate their kids, causing real harm to their and other children.
Flu season is upon us. Last winter, the flu took 172 children with it – the largest death toll in nearly a decade. One of those children was 6-year old Eden Murray, whose family thought that maybe she was just tired from school when she stayed in bed all day. Most families don’t think they are going to lose their child to the flu – this also was the case for the family of 6-year old Emily Muth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that most children that die from the flu (around 85%) are not vaccinated.
President Trump is wrong to lambast vaccines for children. Make sure your children and you are safe this season, go get your flu vaccine.
How many more children must suffer?
The Trump administration’s chlorpyrifos decision was reversed by courts this year – one strategy that has worked in favor of public health. These successes are great, but there are still major issues to be addressed. Extreme flooding is continuing this year. The floodwaters of hurricane Florence have been attributed to 35 deaths thus far. The Trump administration also is attacking air pollution standards on many fronts, even though there are a number of studies that provide evidence that increased air pollution is linked to decline in human health and life expectancy.
How many more teenage girls have to gasp for air? How many more children must grow up without knowing a parent? How many more mothers must worry about their children playing outside?
I never thought that I would be writing a blog to advocate for children’s health – it is seriously mind-boggling for me. And while this all may seem alarmist, these stories are real. Let’s acknowledge these stories, the lives, and faces of those affected by the sidelining of science – we must learn from them to protect children now and in the future.