Living among diesel trucks is like living in enemy territory, for you never know when the poison is going to get you.
And with that cheery thought, buoyed by the knowledge that Los Angeles is the most polluted city in America--I headed out the door.
I was excited to go to my first South Coast Air Quality Management District's (AQMD) Environmental Justice Community Meeting and share ideas with like-minded people doing their best to make a positive difference in our air.
Being there reinforced:
The effects of smog on human health are much more severe than previously thought, especially for post-menopausal women and children.
Approximately, 5200 people die in Los Angeles County prematurely each year, as a result of breathing.
I also learned the California Air Resources Board was having a hearing in a nearby ballroom.
I was asked to testify with what turned out to be 100 others. (I'd been actively speaking up the AQMD meeting so I thought great no problem)
When I arrived to the ballroom, many well-dressed people milled about outside, and filled out forms requesting to speak before the California Air Resources Board.
So I did too.
Never mind I didn't know what I'd say. Or that I'd never testified before. Or that none of it felt natural.
I had much to say about our polluted air.
I entered the ballroom and saw dignified men and women on the podium, the CARB hearing staff.
As I took an aisle seat at the back of the room, I thought: I bet they don't want cancer or a pre-mature heart-attack from breathing the air either, so they will attentively listen and do the right thing.
I patiently listened to others' pleas, lawyers and representatives from the American Lung Association of California, Sierra Club, NRDC, Coalition For Clean Air, Plug In America, Communities for Ports (she was most articulate and impassioned. The Ports are a huge polluting issue...lots of people getting sick as a result), and representatives of political leaders including our mayor, senators, and assemblymen.
Community leaders spoke of cancer clusters in their neighborhoods. Environmental lawyers spoke of statistics and standards that must be raised and adhered to. Political representatives spoke of laws and health issues.
A few ministers spoke, too. They were most impassioned. One community activist named around 15 people on her block who died of cancer, including her dad. Tears welled in my eyes, and everyone I could see.
And then eventually, after half the room was gone after a long day, I heard...
What would I say? I had to trust the right words would come.
The words came slowly at first and then poured... my best friend's mom dying of lung cancer who never smoked, and then learning she was far from alone. I learned about 7 other lung cancer victims recently dying, most women in their 40s who never smoked, living between Santa Monica and the Hollywood Hills. I spoke of how painful this type of cancer can be. Two friends got brain tumors, another... well, I'll spare you.
What everyone had in common was living in Los Angeles within 1/2 mile of a freeway or on a major thorough-fare.
Then I spoke of my hope.
As a result of working in public relations representing emerging technologies, I've witnessed the amazing brilliance, ingenuity, and creativity of scientists that innovated solutions for old problems.
Why not in the pursuit of clean air? Why not create amazing technologies and new systems to reduce smog and the worst chemicals in trucks, ships, and planes?
And I said we must give business incentives and laws, and new strict standards to work with toward fulfillment.
And set the bar high.
I said something about,
"You guys have the power to make a real positive change today," and immediately I regretted "you guys" but somehow the other words came out okay so I said thank you and returned to my seat.
Afterward, a few people thanked me for sharing, which felt good. I wasn't alone. Something I said registered with at least a few others. And I didn't completely stumble without a plan.
It also felt great to be part of the democratic process because laws are the best way to ensure the largest number of people and companies change for the better.
The port of Los Angeles is one of the biggest reasons for our serious smog and health problems.
Diesel ships and trucks transporting goods earmarked for the rest of the country clog the port and our local freeways. Not to mention the planes overhead, spewing fine particulate matter, too, the most dangerous chemical in smog. Too tiny to see and yet can lodge in one's lungs causing cancer and premature deaths.
Los Angeles and surrounding counties have 52 percent of America's fine particulate pollution. Yes, right here.
Disgusting. Excuse me, I have to cough.
And you New Yorkers, you only have 2.4 percent of nasty fine particulate matter.
On a bright note, there was victory in the end.
The Chairman of CARB, Robert Sawyer, said he'd reconsider their current plan based on our collective testimony requesting stricter standards for mobile air pollution sources such as diesel trucks, ships, planes, and cars, and their next meeting will reconvene in July and /or September.
It was a victory for AQMD's plan, which had pushed for stricter clean air standards, and, of course, everyone who breathes in California.
One moral of my fear of fine particulate matter story is to speak up when you feel strongly about something, and you never know, you may be the one, or one in a hundred, that helps make a difference in the world.
That feels good.