RHA’s Clean Air Initiatives

Respiratory Health Association, with its many local, state and national partners, works to significantly reduce diesel air pollution, support efforts to increase the use of clean, nonpolluting sources of energy and increase the use of electric vehicles.

Clean Construction

Every year, diesel-powered vehicles and heavy equipment emit thousands of tons of pollution in Illinois. These vehicles and pieces of equipment are usually operated at street level, emitting concentrated air pollution precisely where people breathe. Diesel pollution is harmful to human health, contributing to asthma episodes, heart attacks, lung cancer, stroke and, in extreme cases, premature death.

Simple, effective solutions are available to make diesel engines much cleaner. More needs to be done to ensure that this technology is being fully implemented. Clean construction policies can provide innovative, cost efficient solutions to reduce the long term costs of peoples’ exposure to this deadly pollution. These policies seek to prevent the health and environmental consequences of diesel emissions by reducing emissions and using resources more efficiently. We strongly encourage the use of zero-emission electric construction equipment and vehicles where such options exist.

Respiratory Health Association’s clean construction advocacy efforts focus on requiring the use of new, clean diesel engines or retrofitted older engines, specifying the fuel type, and limiting vehicle idling, among other strategies. Clean construction policies can be adopted voluntarily by a contractor, can be part of the bidding requirements for specific projects, or can include government projects via a local ordinance.

RHA and other community organizations continue to promote the adoption of clean construction principles at health-sensitive sites such as hospitals and to encourage the City of Chicago to strengthen its existing Clean Construction Ordinance (2-92-595).

Learn more in RHA’s Clean Construction Policies issue brief and visit the Air Pollution section of our Library for additional resources.

Clean Renewable Energy

Coal-burning power plants are the single largest sources of soot air pollution in the United States. Respiratory Health Association works to prevent air pollution from coal plants while also working to increase clean renewable power sources that don’t emit air pollution, such as wind and solar. By seeking increased clean energy resources and reduced consumer demand through energy efficiency strategies, Illinois will reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The health impacts of coal plant pollution are clear: power plants cause an average of 213 deaths, 162 hospital admissions, and 359 heart attacks per year in metropolitan Chicago alone. These harms are largely preventable if power plants use modern pollution controls.

Coal power plants built before the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970 still operate in the suburbs of Chicago in Lake and Will counties. In 2012, RHA and partners achieved the closure of the Fisk and Crawford coal-fired power plants in the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods of Chicago. Fisk and Crawford were the two largest sources of air pollution in Chicago and emitted tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) every year. The Clean Air Task Force estimated those two plants were responsible for 42 deaths, 66 heart attacks, and 720 asthma exacerbations annually.

RHA also defended Illinois state standards for coal power plant emission limits in 2018 which led to the closure of four additional Illinois coal power plans in 2019. After RHA first filed a Clean Air Act citizens lawsuit in 2014, a successful settlement in late-2019 resulted in an agreement to shutter an additional large coal power plant in Illinois by the end of 2022. The settlement also provides over $1.5 million for lung health improvement programs in schools, health departments and medical facilities in the Peoria region. However, coal power plants still operate throughout Illinois and surrounding states, increasing pollution in downwind urban and rural areas alike.

Visit the Air Pollution section of our Library for more clean renewable energy resources.

Electric Vehicles

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and all-electric vehicles emit far less pollution than conventional vehicles running on gasoline and diesel. We advocate for the transition to electric vehicles, particularly in school and transit bus fleets. We urged Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to commit to electrifying the Chicago Transit Authority bus fleet by 2030, which she included as part of her policy platform. We continue to support CTA efforts to electrify its fleet and has worked to increase funding for electric vehicles from state and federal sources as well as clean air court settlements. We also continue to support vehicle electrification as a critical strategy towards creating a zero-emission transportation system that does not pollute the air.

Electric vehicle resources including our report “Electrification of CTA Buses: Health Implications of Inaction” can be found in the Air Quality section of our Library.


For more information on RHA’s clean air initiatives, contact Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs, via email at burbaszewski@resphealth.org or by phone at (312) 628-0245.