I grew up in Houston in the 1970s, when people filled their cars with leaded gasoline and used toxic cleaning products and pesticides around their homes. By the time I was 5 years old, doctors had diagnosed me with asthma. No one thought I was capable of doing anything physically strenuous because I was asthmatic. I was always on medication, using inhaled steroids and liquid medicine. It was miserable.
Now, my daughter, Layla, and my son, Robby, have asthma, too, and Layla takes a daily inhaler. When they get sick, it can be worse than it might be without this condition. I usually make sure I have a nebulizer and am ready to help put them on it if they need help breathing. As a result, Layla and Robby are not as active in sports and outdoor activities as they would like to be.
Air pollution does not affect everyone equally, but it affects everyone in some way. Many families, like mine, have asthma problems. I also know people in their 40s with leukemia. People do not necessarily connect these health problems to the air we breathe. However, when I visit cities with cleaner air, I have so much more energy. When I return to Houston, my lungs tighten almost instantly.
Some people might think the foul air is just part of living in Houston. In reality, it makes the city a less attractive place, which is bad for business. It is bad for our growth as an economy, and it is bad for our health. I think people would be more productive if they could breathe easier.
Air pollution also is a social justice issue because those carrying the heaviest burden tend to be people of color and low incomes. That is something that I am glad to see Air Alliance Houston address, with grassroots efforts to give marginalized people the necessary tools to fight for clean air.
Here is my hope for Houston: Our city has fewer children with asthma and fewer people with cancer because elected officials, state and federal regulators and industry took the necessary steps to protect public health.
Lauren Salomon, mother of three, is on the board of Air Alliance Houston, which is a founding member of One Breath Partnership.