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What does a straw have to do with air quality?

May 1, 2019

In celebration of Air Quality Awareness Week, Jenifer Dixon, Air Quality Liaison for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) Air Quality Division (AQD) took some time to really think about the impact of all of the work AQD staff do and how it impacts people in the state of Michigan, and wrote the following:

With this being Air Quality Awareness Week, I took some time to really think about the impact of my work and the work of EGLE's Air Quality Division (AQD). Working with the AQD for over 20 years, I know what our goals are. The primary goal of our work is to help protect human health and the environment. This feels lofty sometimes. On a day-to-day basis, what real impact do we have as staff people moving through our days and doing what we do, whether it is writing permits, reviewing data, inspecting facilities or talking to the public? Seeing the big picture through the small details can be challenging and we are not often aware of the effects of our work.

Sign up for alerts at the Enviroflash web site.AQD works to achieve the goal of help protect human health by providing alerts when the air quality is unhealthy for sensitive populations, including those with chronic lung conditions, like asthma. Anyone can sign up to get these alerts by going to the Enviroflash website. However, this is an opt-in notification system, meaning you must let us know you are interested. So, in order to get the word out about the system, AQD staff talk about it at every opportunity! One of the main places we talk about the system and its benefits is at our Earth Day celebration.

Instructions for taking the asthma empathy testDuring Earth Day, AQD staff have the opportunity to spread the word not only about this system, but to talk about how poor air quality can affect people, especially those with asthma. One of the activities staff have the students do is to breathe through a straw to demonstrate how it feels when someone has an asthma attack.

So, as I ponder our place in the world as AQD staff people and how we work to meet our goals, a wonderful story was shared with me that brought this full circle. This story was shared by one EGLE staff person with AQD staff person, Amy Robinson, and it began with her telling Amy, “Oh, you are the ones with the straws. You saved my secretary’s daughter’s life.”

The story went on like this, “One day, the secretary’s daughter was having a hard time breathing at home, but they weren’t sure what was wrong. The girl told her mom it felt like when she was younger at Earth Day and had to breathe through the straw. The mother remembered a demonstration of what it was like to have asthma. The mother rushed the girl to the hospital, where she received treatment for an asthma attack. When the secretary came back to work, she told her co-workers how Earth Day saved her daughter’s life.”

As we move through Air Quality Awareness Week, I will keep this story close. Hearing stories like this, brings our air quality work full circle. The reality is the impacts of what we do while we are writing permits, reviewing data, inspecting facilities or talking to the public are felt by individuals. Helping to protect the health and the environment around these individuals makes all the little things worth a lot more.

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