Respiratory Health Association Announces CEO Search

CHICAGO, March 7, 2024 — Respiratory Health Association announced it has retained the executive search firm Growing Your Team® to lead the search for its next Chief Executive Officer. The announcement comes after current President and CEO Joel Africk announced his decision to retire in June 2024 after 34 years of service.

The RHA Board of Directors formed a CEO Search Committee to work with Growing Your Team to conduct a robust search. RHA is seeking a leader with extensive knowledge of nonprofit operations, as well as nonprofit financial, fundraising, and strategic planning skills. The position does not require candidates to be medical professionals. The full job specification can be found online.

“I thank Joel for his long-running commitment to our great organization,” said RHA Board Chair Daniel Lavin. “As we look to the future, we are committed to finding the most qualified candidate to face the ever-evolving lung disease and air quality issues that affect everyone.”

The nonprofit RHA works on a number of fronts to fight lung disease and promote clean air. RHA programs educate students on asthma management, grant funding to lung health researchers, assist patients diagnosed with COPD, and advocate for clean air legislation and policies that curb tobacco use.

If you have any questions, you can reach out to Jamie Van Cuyk of Growing Your Team, who is facilitating our search, at jamie@growingyourteam.com or view the job specification.

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About Respiratory Health Association

RHA has been a local public health leader in Chicago since 1906. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people live better through education, research, and policy change. To learn more, visit www.resphealth.org.

 

 

Respiratory Health Association Statement on Final U.S. EPA PM2.5 National Ambient Air Quality Standard Announcement

February 7, 2024 – Chicago, IL – Respiratory Health Association (RHA) applauds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to significantly tighten the national ambient air quality standard for fine particulate matter (commonly called “soot”). As a respiratory irritant, fine particle pollution increases the number of asthma attacks, emergency room visits, respiratory hospitalizations, and premature deaths. The health standard finalized by the Agency recognizes what scientists have been saying for years– particle pollution is harmful to human health even at low concentrations.

The EPA’s action is also important for health equity. Fine particle pollution disproportionately impacts minority communities.  Research has shown that U.S. racial and ethnic minorities, as well as lower-income groups, are at a higher risk of premature death from exposure to PM2.5 air pollution. The Agency’s decision will result in fewer people from underserved communities dying from breathing air pollution, in a portion of the country where the pollution levels are consistently among the highest.

“It has been an 11-year struggle to set soot pollution standards that adequately protect human health based on science,” said Brian Urbaszewski, RHA Director of Environmental Health Programs. “The decision finalized today will save over 4,000 lives a year and begin to reduce the disproportionate air pollution burden borne by communities of color.”

However, the standard chosen still falls short of the levels supported by health and medical groups, including RHA. The EPA’s own Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) shows that lowering the annual standard further would prevent 9,200 premature deaths, compared to 4,500 premature deaths with the standard announced today.

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About Respiratory Health Association

RHA has been a local public health leader in Chicago since 1906. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people live better through education, research, and policy change. To learn more, visit www.resphealth.org.

Be Mindful of Air Pollution from Gas Stoves on Thanksgiving

During the Thanksgiving holiday, Americans eat turkey, take naps, and watch sports. They probably aren’t thinking about how much they use their kitchen stove to cook a holiday meal – but they should.

If you’re one of the over 79% of Illinoisans who cook with gas, you should know that it’s the biggest source of air pollution inside your home. The dangerous fumes it emits will build up inside the home over the course of the day. In fact, Thanksgiving might be the worst home indoor air quality day.

Burning gas creates deadly fine particulate matter, a pollutant the EPA says is more dangerous than they previously thought based on peer-reviewed scientific research published over the last several years. Using cooking gas also creates nitrogen dioxide gas as a byproduct of combustion, and it’s a powerful lung irritant and asthma trigger. One study published in 2022 found gas stoves might explain over 20% of asthma cases in Illinois.

So, if you’re the one cooking for the crowd this year, what can you do to protect yourself and all those house guests?

  • Use the vent fan. If the hood vent fan over your stove sucks the fumes and exhausts them outside your home whenever the stove is on, use it while you are cooking. It won’t get rid of all the pollution, but it will definitely reduce the pollution you breathe.
  • Open a window. Many vent hoods just capture grease and circulate air back into the kitchen. Those won’t do anything at all to reduce the dangerous gases and microscopic particles coming out of your stove. In that case, open a window to let some fresh air in and allow the indoor pollution to escape.

All of the other home gas appliances, such as the furnace, water heater, and dryer, are all vented to the outside for a reason.

In the longer term, you might want to explore options for replacing your gas stove. Soon states will be offering large rebates to help people replace gas appliances with safer, cleaner, and more efficient electric alternatives. Those programs will include rebates of up to $840 for a cool-to-the-touch electric induction stove or cooktop. Additional rebates are available for needed electrical work if you don’t have an outlet for an electric stove. Utilities like ComEd currently offer a $100 rebate for an electric induction stove.

Whichever ways you choose to celebrate, we hope you have a safe and healthy holiday!

RHA and Partners Awarded Federal Grant to Improve Air Quality by Reducing Transportation Emissions

CHICAGO – Respiratory Health Association (RHA), in partnership with ComEd, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the Argonne and Oak Ridge national laboratories, announced it has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to receive one of just seven awards made nationally through the federal Clean Energy to Communities (C2C) initiative.

The $500,000 federal award will support regional efforts to understand and inform strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost the adoption of all-electric transportation options. Over the next three years, grant partners will conduct research and modeling to better understand the types and the scale of action needed to lower carbon emissions in the transportation sector.

“Reducing air pollution from motor vehicles will benefit everyone who breathes—not just people living with asthma and other chronic lung diseases,” said Joel Africk, President and CEO of Respiratory Health Association. “The positive impact of this project will be felt throughout the Midwest, and particularly in poorer communities where vehicular traffic is disproportionately heavy.”

Nationwide, transportation is now the largest single source of planet-warming gases, and transportation accounts for 32% of northeastern Illinois’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, further complicated by the Chicago region’s role as a freight and logistics hub. Recent studies reveal that the transition to electric vehicles in Illinois has the potential to provide significant health benefits, with RHA finding as many as 400 premature deaths in Illinois each year due to air pollution from diesel engine emissions alone.

Learn more about the C2C award partnership.

RHA Hosts 27th Annual CowaLUNGa™ Charity Bike Tour to Fight Lung Disease

July 14, 2023 – Chicago, IL – Hundreds of riders will participate in the 27th annual CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour taking place July 29-31, 2023, while raising funds for Respiratory Health Association.

CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour starts at Gurnee Mills Mall in Gurnee, IL and offers a one-day ride (18 or 65 miles), a two-day ride (130 miles) or a three-day ride (190 miles) pedaling over rolling hills through northern Illinois into southern Wisconsin. Riders who can’t start on Saturday, July 29, can join the ride on Sunday, July 30 in William’s Bay, WI for a one-day Century Ride. Other stops include Whitewater, WI, before ending on Day Three at Hubertus, WI.

“So many of us have loved ones living with lung disease,” said Joel Africk, President and CEO of Respiratory Health Association. “This event is a great way to make a difference in fighting one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.”

Many riders this year indicated they have been affected by lung disease or lung health concerns such as asthma, lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, smoking, COPD, or cystic fibrosis.

Along the way, riders experience an unparalleled level of camaraderie and support from other cyclists and Respiratory Health Association, while helping RHA achieve its vision of healthy lungs and clean air for all.

To sign up, please visit RespHealth.org/Cow.

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About Respiratory Health Association
RHA has been a local public health leader in Chicago since 1906. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people live better through education, research, and policy change.

RHA Remains Vigilant as COVID-19 Federal Public Health Emergency Expires

May 10, 2023 – Chicago, IL – Tomorrow marks the end of the federal Public Health Emergency (PHE) for COVID-19, declared under Section 319 of the Public Health Service (PHS) Act.

As the world transitions into this new stage, it is important to recognize the pandemic is not over. We are simply no longer in an emergency phase. However, we can keep the COVID-19 virus in check. We need to remain vigilant as the possibility remains that new variants will emerge and need to be addressed.

“The lessons of the pandemic should not be forgotten,” said Joel Africk, President and CEO of Respiratory Health Association. “Good hand washing, masking in crowds, and social distancing when you have symptoms remain important preventive measures to stop the spread of viruses.”

Even in a non-emergency phase, the U.S. is still on pace towards 55,000 COVID-19 deaths this year, which is the equivalent of a severe flu season.

Public health officials remain most concerned about the population of people 65 years of age and older. These individuals, and those who are immunocompromised, should continue to receive their COVID-19 booster vaccinations.

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Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader in Illinois since 1906, focusing on lung health and clean air issues. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people live better through education, research, and policy change. As a policy leader, RHA is committed to advancing innovative and meaningful tobacco control policies. We have been one of the state’s leading advocates for federal oversight of tobacco and vaping products, smoke-free laws, Tobacco 21, and other tobacco product policies.

RHA Hosts 26th Hustle Chicago® Stair Climb to Support the Local Fight Against Lung Disease

February 26, 2023 – Chicago, IL – Over 1,500 people climbed to the top of an iconic Chicago skyscraper when Respiratory Health Association hosted its 26th Hustle Chicago® stair climb on Sunday, February 26. Climbers took the stairwells up 875 N. Michigan Ave. to raise awareness and funds for local lung health and clean air programs.

“Since the event began in 1998, nearly 70,000 climbers have helped raise over $19 million for Respiratory Health Association,” said Joel Africk, President & CEO. “These funds support our mission to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better through education, research and policy change.”

Every year, Hustle Chicago climbers ascend 1,632 steps and 94 floors. The 2023 event includes climbers from 26 states ranging from 6 to 81 years old. The average climb time for the Full Climb of 94 floors is 26 minutes.

Nearly 650 climbers this year indicated they have been affected by lung disease or lung health concerns such as asthma, lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, smoking, COPD, or cystic fibrosis.

“Every year we celebrate the incredible climbers not only for their accomplishment making it to the top, but also the impact they have on those living with lung disease,” commented Africk. “Their participation and fundraising support the fight against asthma, COVID-19, COPD, lung cancer and other lung diseases.”

The climb finishes at the 360Chicago Observation Deck, featuring panoramic views of the city and its historic lakefront. The Hearn Company owns and operates the 875 N. Michigan Ave. building.

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Respiratory Health Association (RHA) has been a local public health leader in Chicago since 1906. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people live better through education, research and policy change. To learn more, visit www.resphealth.org.

Smoke Free Illinois 15 Years Later – More Change is Needed

February 8, 2023 – Chicago, IL – January 2023 marks 15 years since the Smoke Free Illinois Act went into effect, banning smoking in public spaces across the state. This law has saved an estimated 37,000 lives in Illinois, helped reduce heart attacks and other health problems, and saved millions of dollars in healthcare costs. And the law has helped place Illinois on the path to a generation of children who have grown up in a smoke-free world.

“How often in our lives do we have an opportunity to save a life—let alone thousands of lives?” commented Joel Africk, President and Chief Executive Officer of Respiratory Health Association (RHA), which advocated for the passage of Smoke Free Illinois. “That’s why we continue this fight to keep tobacco out of the hands of our children and reduce exposure to secondhand smoke.” Currently, RHA is working to add e-cigarettes to the Smoke Free Illinois Act and to restrict the sales of flavored tobacco products that are marketed to youth.

Tobacco advocates highlight the need for public health funding to support their efforts. Illinois currently ranks 39th in the US in funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs. Only 7.4% of the $220 million Illinois receives annually in Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement is being used to support tobacco control programs.

The need is greater than ever to strengthen vaping restrictions and increase programming to protect our youth from the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes.

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Respiratory Health Association has been a public health leader in Illinois since 1906, focusing on lung health and clean air issues. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people live better through education, research, and policy change. As a policy leader, RHA is committed to advancing innovative and meaningful tobacco control policies. We have been one of the state’s leading advocates for federal oversight of tobacco and vaping products, smoke-free laws, Tobacco 21, and other tobacco product policies.

RHA Statement on U.S. EPA Proposed Fine Particle Health Standard

Sign our letter to tell the U.S. EPA to set a stronger fine particle standard!

January 27, 2023 – Chicago, IL – On January 6th, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was proposing changes to the federal health standard for fine particulate matter less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5), one of the most widespread and deadly pollutants in the United States. Despite our hope that an objective view of the collected scientific record would result in a proposed standard truly protective of public health, particularly for the most vulnerable people and communities, Respiratory Health Association was disappointed by the content of EPA’s announcement.

It is abundantly clear that the EPA-favored proposal would simply leave too much deadly soot in the air people breathe. While the scope of the new proposal is an improvement over the current standard, it favors setting a health standard that is too lax by leaning away from limiting pollution to levels that would save nearly 20,000 lives additional lives a year.

Based on the collected scientific knowledge and independent expert opinion, Respiratory Health Association believes this air quality health standard must be tightened to the greatest extent possible under consideration, specifically 8 micrograms/m3 on an annual basis and 25 micrograms/m3 on a 24-hour basis.

This issue is literally one of life and death. Breathing fine particulate matter in the air is literally a death sentence for thousands of Americans every year. Legally allowing this pollution to remain at levels that will continue to add to this tragedy would be not only irresponsible of EPA but patently unjust for the low-income and minority communities now seeing both the highest levels of pollution and the consequent disproportionate health and life impacts.

Americans deserve clean air and that right should not be constrained by the wishes of polluters to continue to emit harmful material into the air. EPA Administrator Regan will make the final call on what EPA’s new health standard will be for deadly fine particulate matter this year. We strongly encourage him to set the tightest standard possible to protect the health of all Americans and prevent the greatest number of premature deaths, particularly for those living with and at risk of developing lung disease.

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Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader in Illinois since 1906, focusing on lung health and clean air issues. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people live better through education, research, and policy change. As a policy leader, RHA is committed to advancing innovative and meaningful tobacco control policies. We have been one of the state’s leading advocates for federal oversight of tobacco and vaping products, smoke-free laws, Tobacco 21, and other tobacco product policies.

Chicago City Council Ordinance Will Strengthen Restrictions on Youth Vaping

January 23, 2023 – Chicago, IL – On January 18th, 2023, the Chicago City Council amended the Tobacco Retail License Ordinance, putting in place new restrictions and licensing requirements for vape shops. Specifically, new Chicago businesses that receive more than 20 percent of their gross revenue from the sale, in any combination, of electronic cigarettes, liquid nicotine products, or electronic cigarette accessories will now be required to obtain a special city license. The ordinance also prevents new licenses for tobacco retail businesses within 1,000 feet of any existing retail tobacco store.

“Respiratory Health Association applauds the City of Chicago’s decision to strengthen regulation of these harmful tobacco products,” commented Joel Africk, RHA’s President & Chief Executive Officer. “We continue to fight to reduce the burden of tobacco-related lung illnesses in our communities and to restrict youth access to vaping products.”

Years of strong city and state policies have reduced cigarette use among Chicago high school students by nearly 82% in the past five years. But this success is threatened by a concurrent 56% increase in vaping. Tobacco control programs must also deal with very limited support from the State. Illinois ranks 39th in funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, with only 7.4% of its annual $220 million in Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement funds going toward these programs.

The need is greater than ever to strengthen vaping restrictions and increase programming to protect our youth from the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes.

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Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader in Illinois since 1906, focusing on lung health and clean air issues. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people live better through education, research, and policy change. As a policy leader, RHA is committed to advancing innovative and meaningful tobacco control policies. We have been one of the state’s leading advocates for federal oversight of tobacco and vaping products, smoke-free laws, Tobacco 21, and other tobacco product policies.