Illinois Climate and Equitable Jobs Act Becomes Law

For Immediate Release

September 15, 2021

Contact: Erica Krutsch

[email protected]

Respiratory Health Association Applauds Signing of Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (Senate Bill 2408)

 Legislation invests in clean energy, electric transportation in historic win for clean air and lung health

CHICAGO –After more than three years of advocacy and grassroots organizing by Respiratory Health Association (RHA) and partners across the state in the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, today Governor Pritzker signed into law a nation-leading equitable climate bill.

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act sets Illinois on the path to 100% clean energy by 2050 and commits millions of dollars to quickly accelerate transportation electrification in Illinois.

Following the Governor’s signing, RHA released the following statement:

“Respiratory Health Association applauds Governor Pritzker on today’s signing of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act. Illinois is now poised to lead the nation in building a strong, sustainable future with an energy plan that addresses the public health threat of pollution from fossil fuels, takes steps to support communities most impacted by poor air quality, and creates quality jobs.

The energy and transportation industries are the leading contributors to air pollution, including particulate matter pollution and smog. Not only do these emissions accelerate climate change, but they have a significant impact on our health.

More than 137 million Americans live in communities, both cities and rural areas, with unhealthy levels of air pollution. Recent research indicates that worldwide more than eight million people died in 2018 from fossil fuel pollution. Air pollution is also linked to increased risk for lung cancer and chronic lung diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

We would like to thank Governor Pritzker, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, Senate President Don Harmon and other legislative champions in addition to thousands of diverse advocates who have joined us in advocating for clean energy, clean air, and healthy lungs for more than three years.”

Protect Your Lungs from Summer Air Pollution

The summer months generally have more days with poor air quality. Ground-level ozone (smog) levels increase due to warmer temperatures, which can lead to difficulty breathing. This summer has been no different — and has also featured additional air pollution from wildfires in the U.S.

Poor air quality can be bad for anyone. However, it is especially concerning for vulnerable populations like children, the elderly, and people living with lung disease. Periodically, the Illinois EPA will call an air pollution action day to indicate particularly bad air quality. On these days labeled “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” people included should try to avoid strenuous physical activity, stay cool inside, and hydrate.

Everyone can take steps on action days to reduce air pollution and protect people in their communities, including:

  • Limit driving if you can — consider walking, biking, or working from home if possible.
  • If driving, avoid idling, and try to run errands after 7 pm when sunlight is not as strong.
  • Avoid using gasoline-powered equipment.
  • Set your thermostat up 2 degrees to limit air pollution from fossil fuel power plants.
  • Turn off and unplug electronics not in use.
  • Do not burn leaves and other yard waste.
  • Sign-up to receive air quality forecasts via email at enviroflash.info.

Keep an eye on local news and weather alerts or visit airnow.gov, which also provides daily air quality updates by location. As a lung health advocate, sharing this information can help everyone breathe easier when summer air pollution increases.

A Recap of 2021 Lung Health Advocacy Victories

Together we made great progress toward healthy lungs and clean air for all during the spring legislative session. With your support, we advocated new laws and changes to benefit the health of everyone in Illinois. Join us in celebrating these victories,:

  • RHA worked with the Illinois Department of Public Health on an advocacy effort to increase statewide funding for asthma education in Illinois. These efforts resulted in an additional $1 million in funding for school-based asthma education.
  • SB2294 will encourage more Illinoisans to quit smoking by providing expanded Medicaid coverage for FDA approved quit smoking medications, tobacco counseling services, and telephone-based quit smoking services provided through the Illinois Tobacco Quitline.
  • HB3202 will add e-cigarettes and other vapor devices to the state’s health education programs in schools.
  • SB512 will prohibit companies from marketing e-cigarettes to minors and from running misleading e-cigarette advertising.
  • HB1779 will provide easier access to care for people living with cancer by not requiring prior authorization for biomarker testing, which can guide health professionals in developing a treatment plan.
  • HB1745 will reduce out-of-pocket costs for Illinoisans’ prescription drugs, like asthma and COPD medications, by requiring insurance companies to offer plans with predictable co-pays or cap these amounts.
  • HB3498 makes innovative telehealth approaches permanent, so Illinoisans can continue to access critically needed care beyond the pandemic regardless of transportation, scheduling barriers – and with less stigma or risk to safety.
  • SB2563 expands vehicle emissions testing by permitting owners of vehicle service companies to operate an official portable emissions testing company – a win for clean air.
  • SB2133 focuses on health equity by ensuring the state reports data related to race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disabilities for public health indicators, such as COVID infections.

Want to get involved with our advocacy efforts and help promote laws that will benefit everyone’s health? Learn more and sign-up to receive our emails here.

Building a Healthy Future Together

Your support made it possible for us to have an impact in communities throughout Illinois and beyond this past year. Together we faced new challenges, found new solutions, and made progress toward a future free of lung disease. As we come to the end of our program year, we want to share some of our work to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people with lung disease live better lives.

Project STRENGTH for COPD

Thanks to support from the Learn More Breathe BetterSM program of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, we created resources that provide information on how people with COPD can live well at home. Each informational packet aims at keeping people with COPD healthy and provides guidance to help build exercise routines, manage breathing, put together a nutrition plan, and more.

Improving Our Asthma Programs

We collaborated with University of Chicago to conduct a formal evaluation of our two asthma programs – Fight Asthma Now© and Asthma Management. The evaluation showed kids and parents participating in these programs learned a lot about asthma triggers, medications, and staying healthy. The results were even better with repeat sessions.

A New Approach to Quitting

We began testing a new format for our Courage to Quit® program that helps people stop smoking. The new “rolling” model allows people to attend group Courage to Quit sessions with more flexibility, which increases accessibility and makes the program work for more people. We’re pushing forward to expand this idea and increase access to the program in the coming year.

Educational Webinar Series

In August, we launched a new educational webinar series. Lung health content reached nearly 1,000 people on important topics like COVID vaccines, women’s lung health, lung cancer screening, and environmental justice issues. Because the programs were entirely online, we were able to reach a national audience.

Funding Asthma Education

Asthma is the No. 1 cause of school absences due to chronic illness. RHA led an advocacy effort to increase statewide funding for asthma education in Illinois. These efforts resulted in an additional $1 million in funding for school-based asthma education.

group participating in event to help people living with lung disease

Lung Cancer & COPD Research

We awarded two grants to fund promising research into lung cancer and one new COPD research award. One of the lung cancer studies is looking at a specific gene mutation that can cause cancer even in non-smokers. Our annual Solovy Award for Advancement in COPD was awarded to support the research efforts of Dr. Nadia Hansel at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

School-based Asthma Policy Study

We conducted a study to see how well school staff understand current rules about asthma inhalers in schools. We found that 60% of school nurses in Illinois surveyed didn’t fully understand current rules that allow students to bring and use their inhalers in school. We will now focus some of our program resources on educating school health staff to better serve students.

Investing in Clean Air

In April, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency released a plan to invest $88.6 million in electric public transportation, school buses, and charging infrastructure for electric cars. For years RHA has given testimony and fought for money to support clean transportation because transportation is a leading cause of air pollution. This investment is a huge victory for clean air.

woman with stat about helping people with lung disease

Women’s Lung Health Research

Thanks to amazing growth in our Catch Your Breath® women’s lung health initiative, we were able to partner with CHEST Foundation to fund a new research award addressing gender disparities in lung disease. Lung disease impacts one in every six US women, and this award will increase research into the unique aspects of lung disease in women.

To learn more about the educational programs, research, and policy work your contributions support, as well as to receive updates on our work toward healthy lungs and clean air for all, sign-up for our monthly newsletter.

If you’d like to support RHA’s work to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people living with lung disease, you can donate here.

Why We Stand for Clean Air

Lung health begins with the air you breathe.

Polluted air puts everyone’s lungs at risk for asthma, COPD, and even lung cancer. And our loved ones living with asthma and COPD may experience worse symptoms on bad air quality days.

Unfortunately, more than 137 million Americans – over 40 percent – live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

We cannot create a world free of lung disease without addressing this. Cleaner air will help prevent lung disease and protect the health of people who already live with these conditions.

You can spring into action by supporting our clean air efforts during the month of May.

RHA is one of the leading health voices in the Illinois environmental community. We are dedicated to connecting the dangers of air pollution to health impacts. Our collaborations are leading to some exciting new opportunities that promise cleaner air and healthier lungs for everyone.

  • We recently released a study with researchers at UW-Madison that shows positive health impacts of using clean energy. A transition to power sources like wind and solar may prevent nearly 2,000 people in Illinois from having lung problems (like asthma flare-ups) due to air pollution every year. You can read the full report here. Research like this is key to pass laws that will help everyone in Illinois breathe easier.
  • Along with other groups, we are working toward a clean air future by supporting the Illinois Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). This bill will reduce air pollution by focusing on renewable energy sources and electric transportation options. This includes significant investment in electric transit buses and charging hubs for personal vehicles. In addition, it includes a plan that converts Illinois to 100% renewable electricity by 2030.
  • After years of RHA’s advocacy efforts, the governor announced a new plan in April that will allocate the remaining funds from a 2018 VW settlement for electrifying school buses, which contribute greatly to diesel pollution. Additionally, funds will be used for charging hubs across Illinois to promote electric car ownership.
  • This past year, RHA partnered with organizations and residents in Chicago’s Southeast Side to protest the move of General Iron, a heavy polluting company, to their neighborhood. In May, the city announced a pause on the permitting process. They plan to do a more in-depth study into the health impacts of the move. We are hopeful this will result in a permit denial and commitment to protecting a community long plagued by unequal exposure to air pollution.

Only with your support can we continue the fight to protect our lungs from the damaging effects of air pollution. Together we can create a clean air future for all!

For this month only, a group of generous donors from RHA’s leadership have agreed to match every dollar raised up to $5,000. Donate now. 

Clean Air Protects Lung Health

earth day clean air healthy lungs

Did you know more than 137 million Americans live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution? Clean air is critical to protecting lung health. While air pollution is bad for anyone to breathe, it is especially dangerous for people living with asthma, COPD, and other lung conditions.

Breathing polluted air can irritate your lungs and may cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, asthma flare-ups, and chest pain. It also puts you at risk for lung cancer, heart attacks, stroke, and even death.

While we continue to make progress, air pollution remains a serious environmental and health problem. Additionally, as global warming accelerates, climate change will impact public health and put people living with lung disease at additional risk.

By taking small steps together, we can protect our air and our health. Watch this message from Joel Africk, RHA’s President & Chief Executive Officer.

How to Protect Lung Health and Promote Clean Air

  • Walk, bike, or use public transportation when possible.
  • Try to reduce your waste and recycle.
  • Try to avoid gasoline-powered lawn equipment like leaf blowers.
  • Raise awareness by telling people about the importance of clean air. Sharing this message on social media is a great start!
  • Advocate healthy lungs and clean air for all with us!

Sharing Hope for a Future Free of Lung Disease

As we close out a year of many challenges, I am proud of all we have accomplished at Respiratory Health Association (RHA). Together, we have continued to reach for a future free of lung disease.

With the support of our dearest friends, supporters, and partners this year, we made some amazing progress.

Five things give me hope for a brighter tomorrow.

 

Our amazing Making a Difference Volunteers

They give me hope and inspiration in their dedication and support of healthy lungs and clean air for all. Whether riding CowaLUNGa to support kids who have asthma or working with people committed to quit smoking, these awardees have lived RHA’s mission and they are amazing.

collage of photos

RHA’s resilient program staff

When respiratory therapists paused their pulmonary rehabilitation programs for patients living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and shifted to help care for COVID-19 patients, RHA stepped up and provided much-needed patient resources. RHA’s new Project STRENGTH (Support for Transitioning Rehabilitation and Exercise Now Going to Home) offers exercise routines and breathing tips COPD patients can use at home.

girl behind sewing machine and face masksOne of RHA’s Next Generation Advocates, Mia Fritsch-Anderson

Mia, a high schooler who lives with asthma, made more than 3,500 masks over the last nine months. Mia donates masks to people in need and sells some with all the proceeds going to charities doing important work during the pandemic.

Our local research community

These scientists have worked tirelessly over the last year to find treatments and new vaccines for COVID-19. The collaboration across the industry has saved countless lives, and RHA is excited to help promote the vaccine in the new year.

Our environmental policy staff and partners

Amidst the pandemic, they have continued to fight for equitable clean air policies and to reduce climate change. The air we breathe has a direct effect on our lungs, and these advocates are committed to protecting the air to ensure we can all breathe better.

These people, and their tremendous work, give me hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Please join us and make a gift today to help create a tomorrow where everyone breathes easier.

Thank you for being a part of Respiratory Health Association’s community.

Have a happy new year,

Joel J. Africk
President and Chief Executive Officer

Penny Runs for a Future Free of Lung Disease

Story by Amanda Sabino

Penny runs in her 50 States Marathon Club shirt. Members of the organization all share the goal of running a marathon in every U.S. state.

When Penny Wilbanks started a running program 15 years ago, she never imagined where it would take her. Now, after completing 18 marathons in 15 states, her goal is to run one in all 50.

“I truly have a passion for it,” she says.

Penny started running during junior high in Texas when she joined the track and cross-country teams. It was good training for soccer, which she played regularly into college.

While she stopped running for much of her adult life, motivation to restart a fitness routine led her to Google search “solo sports” in 2005. Shortly after, she attended an informational meeting at a local running store.

After running half marathons for 13 years, she decided in 2018 to run her first marathon — the Jack and Jill Marathon in North Bend, Washington. And she hasn’t looked back. “I knew I wanted to run in Chicago for 2020,” Penny shares. “And when I was looking for a charity to run for, Respiratory Health Association stuck out.”

For Penny, lung disease is personal. In 2008, she noticed running became more of a struggle. Often, she would have to stop and catch her breath. One day, she collapsed while training on a nearby track.

Penny was originally diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. When she went to her family doctor, he prescribed an inhaler. She didn’t leave home without it until the possibility came up that she may not have asthma. This led to an echo cardiogram for valve problems in her heart which showed nothing. A scan revealed spots on her lungs. Although grateful when doctors ruled out lung cancer, the cause of her recent breathing troubles remained a mystery. Doctors believe she has weakened lung muscles, and knowing the value of good lung health she continues to see specialists.

Penny and her husband at a Dallas Cowboys game.

Penny’s lung disease story is just one of many in her family. Her grandparents both died of lung cancer – her grandmother only three weeks after diagnosis. Her aunt lives with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Seeing loved ones fight these battles has even led her father to quit smoking.

“Running on Lung Power Team is like running for my heart and soul – my family,” she says. “Each step is one toward healthier lungs and clean air.”

When the Chicago Marathon was cancelled in 2020, it threw a wrench in her plans. But as Penny puts it: “I just don’t believe in quitting.” She continues to run despite the cancellation.

This persistence defines her running style. In one particularly memorable half marathon race, she developed a giant blister that was so painful it slowed her considerably. Penny normally completes a half marathon in two and a half hours. Her husband even went to race officials when he couldn’t see her at the three-hour mark. She recalls her triumphant moment 30 minutes later at the 3:30 cutoff.

“There I came, ankle gushing blood, skipping across the finish. I just couldn’t give up until I saw the end.”

You find out a lot about her approach to life in a year full of challenges and cancellations when listening to her running philosophy: “You take that as your bad time, you take that as your licks. But you finish. Your medal looks the same as the first-place winner.”

The Chicago Marathon postponement, while disappointing, was just another challenge for Penny. She’s running in 2021 and the delay means Chicago will mark the halfway point of her 50 state marathon goal. And she cannot wait to reach this milestone while running for Respiratory Health Association.

To support Penny’s fight against lung disease, you can donate to her fundraiser here.

Penny sits with the pups post race.

New Report Shows Higher Rates of Lung Disease Near Chicago’s Busiest Transit Bus Routes

For Immediate Release

September 11, 2020

Contact:

Brian Urbaszewski

Burba[email protected]

312-405-1175

New Report Shows Higher Rates of Lung Disease Near Chicago’s Busiest Transit Bus Routes

Data Highlight Urgent Need for Electrification Across City’s Fleet

CHICAGO – Respiratory Health Association (RHA) and University of Chicago Center for Spatial Data Science (CSDS) released findings of a year-long study indicating higher rates of asthma and COPD near several bus routes and garage locations across the city of Chicago. The study, which referenced data from Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the first to examine lung disease prevalence in relation to Chicago’s bus routes.

The report analyzed 125 permanent CTA bus routes, classifying seven routes with an average of at least 20,000 riders per day and covering at least seven miles as high-traffic routes. Researchers found residents living within 500 meters (about 1600 feet) of these routes had asthma rates of 11.08%, which is 8.4% greater than the overall city rate. Those living within 500 meters of these routes had a 6.69% COPD rate, 10.6% higher than overall rate across the city. Additionally, residents living closest to any of the CTA’s seven bus garages had asthma rates more than 12% greater than the citywide average and COPD rates 23.6% greater than the citywide average.

“We already know that the air pollution produced by vehicles, including the diesel-powered buses which make up most of the CTA’s current fleet, is dangerous for people’s lungs,” commented Joel Africk, RHA President and Chief Executive Officer. “The higher rates of asthma and COPD along those busy routes – where residents are some of the most vulnerable in the city – show how important it is to replace diesel buses with electric models to improve air quality and protect everyone’s health.”

The report includes recommendations for priority routes to place electric vehicles as well as potential funding sources to support needed infrastructure. It was provided to CTA officials as part of its ongoing strategic planning efforts, which also include plans to reduce pollution produced by city transit vehicles. In 2019, Mayor Lightfoot’s transition team endorsed a goal of fully electrifying the CTA bus fleet and the Chicago City Council passed a resolution supporting complete electrification of CTA by 2040.

“Identifying socially vulnerable areas at greater risk of pollution exposure remains an important area of future research in the work of environmental justice and reducing health disparities,” noted Marynia Kolak, Assistant Director for Health Informatics at the Center for Spatial Data Science. “While these associations are complex, reducing the transit dimension of traffic pollution via electrification is a critical need for the city.”

“Federal, state, and local elected officials need to dedicate the resources needed for the Chicago Transit Authority to accelerate the city’s transition to electric buses,” Africk continued, “so residents – especially those living with lung disease – can enjoy the important health benefits cleaner transportation provides.”

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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.

Protect Your Lungs While Staying Home During COVID-19

As people spend more time inside during the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s important to recognize and reduce sources of pollution in your own home. Indoor air quality varies, but is often worse than outdoor air quality. However, you can improve the air quality in your home by reducing lung irritants generated indoors. Following some basic guidelines in your day-to-day routines can improve the health of those in your home who live with asthma and other lung diseases.

Cooking

gas stove can worsen indoor air quality

Gas stoves can increase indoor air pollution in your home if not properly ventilated.

People are cooking at home more often during the COVID-19 outbreak. Cooking creates moisture, which feeds mold and mildew growth – a common trigger for those living with asthma. It also exposes you to pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, particularly from gas stoves. Nitrogen dioxide is known to worsen asthma and COPD symptoms. Using a stove fan that vents to the outside can reduce pollution from cooking by 75 percent. Opening windows while cooking can also help keep the air in your home clean.

Bathing/Showering

With people home more often, your bathroom and shower may be used more. Moisture from showers can lead to mold and mildew growth, which may affect the lungs of people living with asthma. Use the bathroom fan to vent extra moisture to the outside. If you haven’t checked your fan lately, now is a good time. Remove any dust and dirt from the fan grill to keep it working properly. If your bathroom doesn’t have a fan, open a window if possible.

Cleaning

Regularly cleaning surfaces in your home is a good practice, and can also help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Taking some precautions when cleaning can help reduce the amount of indoor pollution created. If you are cleaning with chemical solutions, try to open windows vent fumes from your space. Additionally, you should never combine ammonia and chlorine bleach cleaners. This can produce a toxic gas which could be dangerous, and especially those who live with asthma. If possible, use a vacuum cleaner, which limits dust levels in the air. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also recommends removing your shoes when you enter your home, as they can bring in additional dirt, dust and germs.

Other Daily Activities

A number of other daily activities and products can worsen indoor air quality. Nail polish, candles and paint are just a few examples of products that can affect lungs, especially those of people living with lung disease. Open windows to circulate air in your home, or use these products outside if possible to protect those in your home living with asthma.

Smoking

Anyone in your home who smokes should do so outside, as smoke and vapor from tobacco and e-cigarette products can be especially irritating to the lungs of someone living with asthma. Also, if you live in multi-unit housing, be aware that some of your neighbors may be struggling at this time and their conditions could worsen from second hand smoke. If you are thinking about quitting, there are a number of resources to help you here.

Reduced activity outside the home has generally helped improve outdoor air quality. However, if you live near pollution sources like industrial facilities or major roadways, you may still risk contact with potentially harmful air pollution. Those living with asthma may also be sensitive to outdoor allergies. In these situations, opening windows is still a good option to ventilate your home. However, consider limiting the amount of time you leave them open. If opening windows is not possible, air filters may be another option to keep good air quality in your home. You should only use devices certified by a trusted source, as some filters use ionizing technology which can produce harmful gas inside your home. You can view a list of filters certified as safe here.

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