Together We Made Strides toward Cleaner Air

RHA has worked for decades to reduce pollution from industrial sources like power plants and the millions of vehicles operating in Illinois.  This spring, your advocacy visits, emails and phone calls led to substantial victories for clean air. We also gained ground on important policies we’ll continue to advance next session.


Clean Energy Jobs Act Continues to Build Momentum

The ambitious Clean Energy Jobs bill continues to gain momentum with 49 co-sponsors in the House and 27 in the Senate by the end of May – with many joining as co-sponsors after RHA’s Lung Health Education Day in March.

The bill would ensure all electricity comes from non-carbon sources by 2030 (no fossil fuels) and all electricity comes from clean renewable sources by 2050; that the benefits of clean energy development from this transition are distributed equitably; and that efforts to electrify transportation remove the emissions equivalent of a million cars from the air people breathe.

RHA will continue to build on this momentum until the General Assembly comes back to Springfield in October.


Long-Standing Prohibition on State Action to Address Climate Crisis is Repealed

Legislation passed this session will remove a law passed 20 years ago that prohibited Illinois from enacting any policies to reduce greenhouse gases and tackle the climate crisis. The vote reflects that the state legislature increasingly sees an unstable climate as a health threat, especially for vulnerable people and those living with chronic medical conditions.

Removing this restriction means Illinois can now forge a more effective climate strategy and implement stronger greenhouse gas reduction policies, which will help expand clean renewable energy resources and reduce ozone smog. As the Sun-Times noted, Illinois could now even require tighter pollution limits for cars.


Clean Energy – Clean Air Victories in State Budget and Capital Spending Plan

The new state budget and capital plan passed this spring included several provisions to reduce emissions from electricity generation and transportation. Some harmful ideas were prevented as well.

Early versions of the capital plan included a $1000/year registration fee for any electric vehicles (EVs), which would have been a serious blow to the small but quickly growing market in Illinois just as more affordable EVs are beginning to show up at dealerships. In the end, zero-emission EV registration fees were raised to the same level as fossil fuel-powered vehicles and an extra $100/year fee was assessed since EV don’t contribute to state gasoline taxes. While this eliminated discounted registration fees for EVs, one of the very few incentives Illinois had to encourage people to by zero-emission vehicles, it also means EV fees are only a quarter of what was initially proposed.  Electric vehicles will still save drivers hundreds of dollars a year on gasoline not bought, and help reduce smog and greenhouse gas pollution!


Other victories this year in the state budget:

  • $50 million for the Renewable Energy Resources Fund. This supports the Illinois Solar for All program, which prioritizes new solar electric generation projects and solar job training in low-income communities.
  • $70 million is in the capital plan for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs for state facilities. This is sufficient funding to reduce 5% of state building energy usage, which will lower power demand and air pollution.
  • $70 million is in the capital plan to construct electric vehicle charging infrastructure in low income communities, helping ensure all communities can use electric vehicles.
  • $20 million is re-appropriated and another $60 million is appropriated from the Volkswagen emissions cheating settlement fund. Illinois EPA can now spend $80m on electric vehicle projects in the coming year that help reduce emissions from transportation sources to clean the air.


Together we’ve made great strides toward cleaner air, healthier lungs and a more sustainable future.

If you’d like to get move involved in Respiratory Health Association’s advocacy work, become an Advocacy Champion today.

RHA’s Counsel to Quit Program Takes New Approach to Help People Quit Smoking

Research shows that just 3-10 minutes of counseling from a healthcare provider can increase an individual’s success in quitting smoking by 60%. Unfortunately, smokers often don’t receive counseling when they meet with their doctor, nurse, mental health counselor or other provider. Whether it’s because of time constraints, lack of knowledge about effective tobacco treatment or lack of confidence that counseling patients to quit smoking actually works, many providers do not speak with patients about their tobacco use. But the research is clear— quitting smoking is something providers should be talking about with every tobacco user at every visit.

To help address this issue, RHA developed the Counsel to Quit® brief tobacco intervention training. Counsel to Quit® is RHA’s 60- or 90-minute interactive training program designed to help providers have a conversation with their patients about quitting smoking.  The training is based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “Ask, Advise, Refer” model, which teaches healthcare professionals to ask their patients if they smoke or use tobacco products, advise them to quit, and refer them to appropriate cessation treatment. Attendees learn to use motivational interviewing techniques to more effectively have a conversation with patients about their tobacco use and motivate them to take steps towards quitting.

Following the training, RHA continues to provide assistance to organizations to help them integrate tobacco use screening and referral processes across their practice. Ultimately, RHA hopes the Counsel to Quit® training will help facilitate system-wide changes in how each organization screens patients for tobacco use, refers them to resources and documents this information in the patient record.

Most recently, RHA offered the Counsel to Quit® training as a webinar for providers unable to attend in-person. Over 40 healthcare and social service providers from the Chicagoland region participated.

To date, RHA has offered Counsel to Quit® to over 1300 providers. Recent research shows that attending a training results in significant improvements in providers’ perceived value of cessation counseling, confidence and ability to discuss smoking cessation and knowledge on the role of electronic cigarettes in tobacco cessation among medical, mental health and other providers. We are proud of these achievements and look forward to continuing our collaborations with health and social service providers to address tobacco use in our communities.

If you would like to learn more about bringing Counsel to Quit® to your organization, contact Lainie Kast, Senior Program Manager at or 312-628-0241.

RHA Recognizes Youth Advocates, Awards DeYoung Medal at Annual Recognition Night

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) believes in a future free of lung disease. A world without lung cancer, asthma or COPD. A world with clean air, where everyone breathes easier. RHA can’t build that future without devoted advocates, supporters and partners.

On Thursday, October 11, RHA recognized some of the outstanding volunteers and supporters that share the vision of healthy lungs and clean air for all and help bring it to life.

New this year was the Making A Difference Award for RHA’s Next Gen Advocates. Ranging in ages 7-19, this dedicated group of young people:
• pushed for funding increases in lung disease research
• helped convince lawmakers to adopt laws that better equip schools to handle asthma emergencies
• advocated for Tobacco 21 policies at the local and state level so their generation will not become prey to Big Tobacco

Critical to RHA’s recent advocacy successes, these young people have shared their voices to improve community lung health, and shape lung health policy. Congratulations to Maddie Bertrand, Nicholas Fandl, Michael L. Johnson, Jr. , Michael T. Johnson, Ian Piet, Elizabeth Pyrz, Jon Rivers, and Lauren Wilson.

Young advocates, ranging in ages 7-19, were acknowledged for their commitment to improving community lung health.

It’s wonderful to have new advocates and supporters joining the RHA cause. RHA will flourish if even one of them becomes as dedicated of a supporter as this year’s winner of the Herbert C. DeYoung Medal.

The Herbert C. DeYoung Medal-an award established to honor the late Mr. DeYoung for his 50 years of service—is RHA’s highest honor for volunteer service. This year it was awarded to an exceptional volunteer that demonstrated more than a 20-year commitment to Respiratory Health Association: Cindy Gronkiewicz.

Pictured from left to right: Gina Schwieger, Cindy Gronkiewicz, Joel Africk

Over the years, Cindy has been instrumental in RHA’s asthma, COPD activities, and tobacco control programs, serving on planning committees, providing RHA staff with technical assistance and always recruiting nurses to participate. She serves on the RHA Board of Directors and served as a past Board chair.

Cindy and her husband, Mark, have been generous supporters of RHA’s annual Chill event at the Merchandise Mart, the CowaLUNGa Bike Tour, Hike for Lung Health, multiple RHA fundraisers and RHA’s One Home capital campaign for a much-needed rehabilitation of the Association’s West Loop office. Congratulations to Cindy and thank you for all you do.

Other outstanding partners, volunteers and event participants recognized for their contributions to RHA’s success included:

Making a Difference Award for Lung Health Partners
• Office of Epidemiology, Chicago Department of Public Health
• Rush Health System

Making a Difference Award – CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour – Organization
• Purdue University Global

Making a Difference Award – CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour – Individual
• Joan Mulcahy

Making A Difference Award – Hike for Lung Health
• Rebecca Weinberg-Doptis

Making A Difference Award – Hustle Chicago
• Maureen Campbell

Making A Difference Award – Outstanding Volunteers
• Bill and Marilee Kulterman

Making A Difference Corporate Partner Award
• Aurelio’s Pizza

Respiratory Health Association relies on the support and contributions of dedicated individuals and organizations to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better lives. To get involved with RHA, email or check out one of our upcoming events.

Tips for Staying Healthy in Peak Asthma Season

September marks the beginning of the new school year. Unfortunately, it also marks the beginning of cooler temperatures, elevated seasonal allergens, and increased circulation of respiratory viruses—all of which may trigger asthma episodes.

This time of year can create challenges if you or your loved ones are living with asthma. Asthma-related visits to emergency departments and doctors’ offices are typically the highest in the fall. During this time of year, it is important to work with health care providers to ensure asthma control:

  1. Review and update your Asthma Action Plan with a health care provider. Ensure an updated copy is given to your child’s school or childcare provider; (download AAP from RHA website)
  2. Use prescribed asthma medication and ensure proper medication technique is practiced;
  3. Manage seasonal allergies by working with your health care provider;
  4. Get your yearly flu vaccine. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year before flu activity begins. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October.
  5. Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs. Wash your hands often with soap and water. Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze with a tissue. Stay home when you are sick.
  6. Ensure access to quick-relief asthma medication at all times. If your child will be carrying a quick-relief inhaler in school (ideal for most school age children), complete all necessary school paperwork, including required school health forms (e.g. documentation of an asthma diagnosis, a note signed by you explaining that your child can carry and use a quick-relief inhaler, medication prescription label, etc.). (visit RHA’s webpage asthma management in school)


RHA Prepares for Another Year of Asthma Education

three women stand in front of a brick wall with the Respiratory Health Association logo

RHA’s 2018 National Health Corps Asthma Educators

RHA recently welcomed three National Health Corps members that will serve as RHA’s asthma educators this school year. This fall, RHA’s asthma educators will deliver RHA’s evidence-based asthma programs, Fight Asthma Now© and Asthma Management, to students with asthma and their adult caregivers throughout Chicagoland schools in an effort to improve asthma management in the area. It’s RHA’s goal to educate more than 2,000 students with asthma and more than 3,000 adult caregivers this school year.

Help Protect Clean Car Standards

One of the best ways to promote clean air is to promote clean cars.   In 2012, President Obama directed federal agencies to set strict standards for new cars and SUVs requiring vehicles to get higher mileage over time, use less fuel and emit fewer greenhouse gases. The rules set a goal of getting the average car to 54 miles per gallon by 2025. Extensive technical analysis, vehicles available for sale today and near-weekly announcements by the auto industry show reaching that target is both achievable and beneficial.

Unfortunately, the current Administration is working to finalize a rule that would completely stop any improvement in mileage standards after 2020. This would mean new cars made after 2020 would use more fuel, cost consumers more to operate, emit more greenhouse gases and contribute more to local air pollution – all leading to greater climate instability and increasing health threats.

In addition, the U.S. EPA is proposing to take away California’s legal authority to set a higher bar for limiting vehicle emissions. For decades, California has had the ability to set tighter tailpipe standards for vehicles sold in the state and their leadership has also helped push tighter car tailpipe standards for the nation as a whole. Hybrid electric and 100% battery-powered cars are on the roads today because California demanded that auto manufacturers make and sell vehicles that provide better air quality as well as cost savings. A dozen other states have already adopted California’s tougher standards. Taking away California’s authority would mean that states like Illinois would also be unable to demand better to improve the lives and health of residents.

Urge the government to keep these ‘clean car’ standards in place!

Take a Stand Against Coal Plant Pollution

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) is working openly to allow most of Illinois’ remaining coal-fired power plants to nearly double their emissions of lung-damaging air pollution.  Dynegy, an energy company that owns eight coal plants in Illinois, started working behind the scenes with the IEPA over a year ago to weaken existing public health protections from air pollution.

Press conference with clean air activists

Brian Urbaszewski, RHA’s Director of Environmental Health Policy at a press event opposing the ruling.

The IEPA is pushing the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) to remove existing limits on the pollution emission rates for this fleet of eight coal plants in southern and central Illinois and to instead impose annual caps on how many tons of deadly sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides the plants emit. The proposed rollback would allow Dynegy to keep dirty coal plants open while closing cleaner ones equipped with pollution ‘scrubbers’ and to emit approximately 30,000 more tons of air pollution every year that triggers asthma attacks, emergency department visits, hospitalizations and premature deaths.

RHA has spoken out against these efforts that could drastically increase dangerous air pollution and harm people living with lung disease and will continue to do so.

This month, we joined with our partner organizations to file a motion to stop the hearings on Dynegy’s rollback proposal until Dynegy completes a recent merger with a much larger company.  Texas-based Vistra Energy acquired Dynegy in October 2017 and has not been involved in this rulemaking. We believe this dangerous rollback attempt should be put on hold until the merger is completed and Vistra publicly states whether it, too, wants to double air pollution from these coal plants.

Please join us in asking the IPCB to protect us all and prevent coal power plants from doubling the pollution they put in the air we breathe.