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.


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.

# # #

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.

#  #  #

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.

#  #  #

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.

Respiratory Health Association Statement on West Virginia v. EPA Decision

The Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia v. EPA is disappointing and poses an immediate environmental and health threat to communities across the country.

By undermining the authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate harmful greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, the Court has stifled a regulatory process that had worked for decades to reduce air pollution, curb climate change, and protect people’s health. This ruling particularly hurts people living with lung disease and communities that have long-faced disproportionate amounts of air pollution. Going forward, people in communities like these will bear the brunt of major polluters nearby – breathing dirty air that increases their risk for lung disease. These communities already suffer disproportionately high rates of asthma, COPD, and heart disease, and this ruling will only widen these disparities.

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) will continue to work with states such as Illinois – which passed the historic Climate and Equitable Jobs Act in 2021 – to implement clean renewable energy policies and look to leaders like Gov. Pritzker to address diesel vehicle pollution. Ensuring Illinois joins other leading states by adopting the Advanced Clean Truck (ACT) Rule and Heavy-Duty Omnibus (HDO) rules will dramatically reduce deadly threats from diesel tailpipe exhaust.

Respiratory Health Association remains committed to advocating clean air and lung health on behalf of people everywhere, and will continue to fight for a future where everyone can breathe clean air.

Dr. Laura Feemster Receives 2022 Solovy Award for COPD Research

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) is pleased to name Laura Feemster, MD, MS, from the VA Puget Sound Health Care System and the University of Washington, as recipient of the 2022 Solovy Award for Advancement in COPD. Dr. Feemster accepted the award from Kathleen Hart Solovy as part of RHA’s 2022 Summer Reception on June 30 in Chicago.

The award is funded by the Kathleen Hart Solovy and Jerold S. Solovy Endowment for COPD, and recognizes researchers who have worked to improve the lives of people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“I am deeply humbled and honored to join such a distinguished group of prior awardees, whose notable accomplishments in advancing healthcare for patients living with COPD demonstrates the significance of this award,” Feemster noted. “To accept this honor is truly a highlight of my professional career and I look forward to continuing to help positively impact the lives of people living with COPD and their loved ones.”

Dr. Feemster’s work in COPD focuses on improving health care delivery to patients with COPD – including increasing the use of evidence-based treatments, but also in reducing the use of treatments that are not beneficial and sometimes even harmful.

“Many people living with COPD have severe shortness of breath that limits what they are able to do, or they suffer from frequent flare-ups that lead to hospitalization,” continued Feemster. “While medications and therapies are available that can help improve quality of life and decrease these flare-ups, COPD patients often do not receive these important therapies or receive the wrong therapies. Identifying these gaps and developing interventions to improve the quality of COPD care has the potential to greatly improve the daily lives of the millions of people living with COPD.”

Dr. Feemster is the seventh recipient of the Solovy Award, which was established in 2016. Dr. Nadia Hansel, Director of the Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was the most recent award recipient. Her ongoing research focuses on the social causes of health-related risk factors for COPD including poverty, obesity, diet, and indoor air pollution.

“We are excited to recognize Dr. Feemster for her work on behalf of COPD patients and look forward to following her research efforts,” said Joel Africk, RHA’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “COPD has claimed too many of our family members, friends, and colleagues, and we need to do more for those who are affected by this disease. We are reminded that funding for COPD research is much less than other common chronic diseases, and RHA is forever grateful to Kathleen Hart Solovy for her investment in COPD research.”in bb

Each year Respiratory Health Association also awards early-stage research grants to promising projects covering lung diseases such as lung cancer, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and COPD. Learn more about RHA’s research program and funding opportunities.


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.

In partnership with the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (INCCRRA), we developed a new tool for childcare providers across the state to help children under their care living with asthma. Since its release, more than 2,500 people have viewed the English or Spanish versions.

After three years of advocacy and leadership with many partner organizations, we helped secure the passage of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) – a nation-leading equitable climate law. CEJA sets Illinois on the path to 100% clean energy by 2050, and we continue to lead implementation of these efforts – particularly working with lawmakers to accelerate transportation electrification across the state.

On the heels of a new report identifying serious health risks from diesel pollution in Illinois, we are leading a coalition to secure passage of Advanced Clean Truck rules. This effort, made possible by a grant from the Energy Foundation, would lead to the electrification of heavy-duty trucks – reducing current threats of diesel emissions.

To improve access to lung cancer screenings
for high-risk populations in Illinois, we coordinated with healthcare partners to identify barriers to these screenings. Together, we were able to successfully advocate for $1 million in funding in Illinois to help people learn about and use these services. Expanding access to these preventative services will help identify lung cancer in people most at risk, saving lives along the way.

Thanks to a grant from Will Rogers Institute, we are launching a new project
to develop patient-facing resources about the potential impacts of long COVID. As emerging research continues to document the lasting effects of long COVID, we will be on the front lines of raising awareness about these new challenges and helping people most vulnerable manage their health.

Caring for a family member or friend living with COPD can be hard. An estimated 16 million people live with COPD and millions more have symptoms but
are not yet diagnosed. This highlights a growing need to support caregivers in the COPD community. In partnership with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Learn More ® Breathe Better™Program, we created an online version of our COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit. Now, informal caregivers across the country can more easily access resources to help navigate the challenges of providing care to their loved ones.

One in 6 women lives with lung disease. With remarkable growth of our Catch Your Breath® women’s lung health initiative, we continue to raise awareness about the special risks lung disease poses for women. This year we were able to again partner with CHEST Foundation to fund promising research studying disparities in women’s lung health.

In partnership with the Illinois Health Practice Alliance, a behavioral health services group with more than 100 clinics serving Medicaid patients in Illinois, we are expanding access to our smoking cessation programs. We trained providers in these clinics on our Counsel to Quit® and Courage to Quit® programs, which they will deliver to people who smoke at some of the highest rates.

We awarded grants to fund new research into lung cancer, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), and COPD. One of the lung cancer studies from Dr. Maria Lucia Madariagais looking at new techniques to study lung tissue, with the goal of better targeting and improving cancer treatments. Our annual Solovy Award for Advancement in COPD was awarded to support Dr. Laura Feemster’s COPD research efforts at University of Washington.


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.

New Report Shows Elevated Health Risks from Diesel Engine Pollution in Illinois

Most Heavily Impacted Areas Bear Disproportionate Health Burden

CHICAGO – As rising summer-like temperatures lead to worsening air quality, a new Respiratory Health Association (RHA) report details how harmful pollution from diesel engine exhaust is making the air unhealthy for Illinois residents to breathe. The report, which references data and projections from the Clean Air Task Force (CATF), shows that exhaust from diesel engines will lead to more than 5,000 asthma attacks, nearly 200 heart attacks, and 416 premature deaths across the state in 2023 alone.

“The number of people directly impacted by diesel pollution in Illinois is already staggering,” noted Brian Urbaszewski, RHA’s director of environmental health programs. “It’s even more alarming when you see these pollution levels are 21 percent higher than the national average. While Illinois residents comprise 3.8 percent of the U.S. population, the 416 projected deaths in 2023 represent 4.7 percent of total projected deaths nationally.”

The report breaks out health data at the county level for the top 12 counties in Illinois. All are in the top nine percent of counties nationwide for diesel exhaust exposure. The so-called “Dirty Dozen” counties include Cook, DuPage, Will, Lake, Kane, Grundy, Kankakee, Kendall, McHenry, Dekalb, Madison and Iroquois. Collectively these counties include 64 percent of Illinois’ population, but see 77 percent of the premature deaths, and 80 to 83 percent of the harmful health effects from residents breathing diesel exhaust.

“The figures in this report are additionally concerning as Illinois’s freight industry and truck production continue to grow – affecting everyone’s breathing, but especially more vulnerable people living in predominantly low-income minority communities near diesel engine magnets,” Urbaszewski continued. “With zero-emission trucks already being built here in Illinois, we need to make sure that clean, non-polluting vehicles stay in Illinois rather than just be exported to other states.”

The report’s release comes one year after the Illinois General Assembly urged Gov. Pritzker to join an agreement with 17 other states promising to increase the number of zero-emission trucks sold in coming years (House Resolution 296, Senate Resolution 293). Known as the Multi-State Medium- and HeavyDuty Zero Emission Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding, the states that have signed on pledged that 30 percent of new large trucks and buses sold in 2030 will be zero-emission, and that 100 percent of those vehicles sold would be zero-emission by 2050. To date, the Governor has yet to commit Illinois to this agreement.

The health impacts presented in the study are solely due to fine particulate matter exposure, which are particles small enough to reach deep into a person’s lungs and bloodstream. While the report looks at pollution exposure at the county level, people who live, work, or go to school closer to places with higher diesel exhaust concentrations, like near highways or freight facilities, are also more likely to have health impacts due to this pollution no matter where they live in Illinois.


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 resphealth.org.

Media inquiries:

Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs


New Study Reveals Widening Racial Gaps Among Chicago Children with Asthma

Young boy taking an inhaler with a spacer or holding chamber attached

Black children are more than four times as likely to end up in a hospital emergency room due to asthma than white children, according to latest data.

Chicago has long been known as an epicenter for asthma, with higher rates of the disease in minority communities on the city’s south and west sides. A new report examining data from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) shows little progress in addressing these disparities, with even more troubling trends among children.

The report, released today by Respiratory Health Association (RHA), focuses on the rates of asthma-related emergency department (ED) visits from 2016 to 2021, and follows up on a report released in 2018. It documents increasing racial health disparities among Chicago children.

Between 2016 and 2021, there were 23,550 asthma-related ED visits among Chicago children 19 years old and younger. Most of those visits, 70% (16,436), were among school age children 5-19 years. In total, Black children accounted for 53% of these 16,436 asthma-related ED visits. In children 4 years old and younger, 40% of visits were by Black children.

“Every child should have the same opportunity to breathe easy, and it’s clear we need to do more to understand and address the disparities,” said Joel Africk, RHA’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “It’s unfair these kids have to miss out on time with classmates and friends – and fall behind – just because of their asthma.”

While disparities in asthma-related ED visits exist across all races, the greatest gaps are between Black and white children – and that gap increased during the latest reporting period. As of 2021, Black children ages 5 to 19 years old were 4.3 times more likely to have an asthma-related ED visit than white children. This is a 9% increase from the gap previously reported in 2016.

Additionally, there were 3,148 ambulance visits to schools for asthma-related emergencies where race was documented. In these cases, 84% of students requiring an ED visit were Black. Notably, just 36% of Chicago Public School students are Black.

Having an inhaler on hand in school is important for kids with asthma.

“Unfortunately, many Chicago area kids are feeling some of the worst effects from asthma,” noted Erica Salem, Senior Director, Strategy, Programs and Policy at RHA. “It’s crucial to support more research into these racial disparities and expand community- and school-based asthma programming. With the City of Chicago aiming to eliminate racial health disparities, an investment in asthma is long overdue.”

The report’s release comes during Asthma Awareness Month, observed every May to help people learn about the disease and discuss ways to control it. A combination of asthma education and proper treatment have been shown to help kids manage their asthma and live well.

You can read RHA’s full report on childhood asthma disparities in Chicago here.

Respiratory Health Association Hosts 25th Annual Hustle Chicago® Charity Stair Climb

The Hustle Chicago Event will raise funds for lung health and clean air programs throughout the Chicago area and across Illinois

Chicago, IL – May 5, 2022 – More than 900 people will make their way to Soldier Field Sunday, May 15 to support lung health and clean air programs. Hustle Chicago® charity stair climb, formerly known as Hustle Up the Hancock, returns outdoors for a second year while celebrating 25 years of making a difference in the fight against lung disease.

“We are excited to celebrate a milestone year for Hustle, a Chicago tradition that has raised over $22 million for Respiratory Health Association since 1998,” said Joel Africk, President and Chief Executive Officer. “These funds support educational programs that help people living with diseases like asthma and COPD, research into new treatments for lung cancer, and efforts to reduce air pollution in our communities.”

Participants in the climb come from all walks of life and many are personally impacted by lung disease, including Maureen Campbell, a resident of La Grange. Maureen was inspired by her mother’s fight against lung cancer to climb her first Hustle in 2018.

“Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer and the least funded,” says Campbell, who is climbing at her fifth Hustle this year. “I’m still angry that this horrible disease took my mom. She did everything right. I’m fueled by a desire to help people living with lung disease and for more research that can save lives.”

Climbers at Soldier Field will take the stairs in the stadium’s upper level, looping around as many times as they can in 20-minute waves. Each stairway is approximately 104-110 steps, and 7-8 full loops would equal the 1,632 stairs taken at Hustle’s traditional venue, 875 N. Michigan Ave. Climbers and guests will also enjoy a post-climb party under the stadium’s historic columns.

“More than two million people in Illinois live with lung disease, and many more have not yet been diagnosed,” continued Africk. “The Hustle Chicago® stair climb is a great opportunity for people to enjoy a unique venue, get some exercise, and most importantly make an impact on people living with lung disease. It’s always remarkable to see climbers dedicate their time and energy this way.”

People can still support this year’s event by signing up as a virtual climber or by donating to a participant’s fundraising campaign. Learn more at resphealth.org/hustle.


About Respiratory Health Association 
A public health leader since 1906, Respiratory Health Association (RHA) is dedicated to its mission of preventing lung disease, promoting clean air and helping people live better lives through education, research and policy change. To achieve that goal, RHA collaborates with researchers in pursuit of new treatments and cures for disease like asthma, COPD and lung cancer; empowers adults and children by teaching them skills to manage their health; delivers evidence-based tobacco cessation programs; and works with lawmakers to craft innovative policies that build a more equitable and sustainable future. Learn more at resphealth.org.