By: Emily Walsh, Community Outreach Director, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance
For over a decade, the Environmental Health Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) have come together to host Air Quality Awareness Week (AQAW), celebrated annually during the first week of May. Although air quality in the U.S. has improved over the last two decades, there is still a long way to go before air pollution and other negative impacts are no longer considered a public health issue. In fact, roughly four out of every 10 people in the U.S. live in areas where the air quality received an “F” in the National Lung Association’s annual 2017 State of the Air Report. To help reverse these dangerous trends, the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance is working to engage public health stakeholders and their partners to get involved and take action. The MCA partners with other organizations to raise awareness and share information about the importance of air quality and the effect that it can have on public health.
This year, the theme for AQAW is Be Air Aware, and each day focuses on a particular topic, including:
- Wildfires (May 1, 2017)
- Asthma and Air Quality (May 2, 2017)
- Air Quality Trends (May 3, 2017)
- Air Quality Around the World (May 4, 2017)
- Citizen Science (May 5, 2017)
Each daily topic sheds light on the direct impact of indoor and outdoor air quality on individual and community public health outcomes. These factors also serve as an important reminder to individuals on how their actions directly affect the environment and the health of those around them. Community-based agencies, particularly local health departments (LHDs) can leverage AQAW to educate populations they serve on how to limit the invisible, yet highly dangerous toxins inside and outside of their homes.
LHD staff can start by educating community members on the long-term health risks associated with exposure to outdoor air pollution, like asthma and allergies. Next, LHDs can share actionable steps and supporting resources on how residents can limit these risks by improving outdoor air quality. For example, communities can advocate for increased public transportation options and/or the development of new green space, such as parks or walking trails.
Similarly, LHDs can mobilize community action to address indoor air quality. Through local outreach, LHD staff can incentivize individuals to test and treat their homes for asbestos, radon, lead, and carbon monoxide. Education efforts should emphasize the risk posed by toxins like asbestos and radon, both known carcinogens, and often present in homes without the residents’ awareness. Exposure to asbestos can lead to a myriad of health issues, including asbestosis and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a form of cancer, originating in an individual’s organ lining, as a direct result of inhaling asbestos fibers. While, radon exposure is cited as the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers in America.
Improving air quality in the U.S. must be a national priority, and can only be achieved if every community does their part. Inhabitants of cities like Phoenix, AZ and Denver, CA or the entire state of California are already at a greater risk for particle pollution and ozone exposure. To prevent similar trends from occurring on a national scale, communities need to act now by either preventing or reducing harmful indoor and outdoor air pollutants. Action steps can range from mobilizing community members to transform an unused outdoor area into a community garden to engaging local agencies to assist with the removal of lead and asbestos from residential homes.
To launch efforts in their jurisdictions, LHDs are also encouraged to use the numerous valuable resources on air quality offered by the EPA, CDC, and NOAA. Click the hyperlink for each agency to access fact sheets, graphics, and other tools designed to promote AQAW and to facilitate year-long outreach and education efforts.
AQAW offers LHDs and other partner agencies a valuable opportunity to promote the importance of reducing local air pollution and inspiring continued action throughout the year. If each person does just one thing to help improve the quality of the air they breathe, those actions also benefit the lives of their neighbors and their entire community. Furthermore, the efforts of individual citizens are exponentially multiplied when governmental agencies, particularly local and state health departments coordinate initiatives and align messages to promote clean air and greener living. Finally, LHDs, partners, and individuals can use social media to amplify the AQAW conversation by sharing events, projects, facts, and resources throughout the week, using the hashtag “#AirQualityAwarenessWeek.”