Mom: I remember the days when my children couldn't breathe

What is in our air
What is in our air

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  • Obama's Clean Power Plan, designed to reduce power plant emissions, is being repealed
  • Health effects of particle emissions include asthma, premature mortality, cardiovascular events and stroke

(CNN)The days when all three of her children were simultaneously gasping for air are interminably etched in Laura Kellogg's mind.

"I was running one to the emergency room, while my husband and parents were dealing with the other two's asthma attacks," said Kellogg. A registered nurse, she had appropriate medications on hand, but there were times she couldn't get the asthma under control.
"Imagine how helpless you would feel if you had to watch your child struggle to stay afloat in the deep end of a swimming pool, knowing you couldn't jump in to save him," said Kellogg, with a catch in her voice. "That's how I felt watching my children struggle to breathe. It's not like a boo-boo you can kiss away."
    Debilitating, persistent asthma was an ongoing struggle for Kellogg's eldest son Camryn, daughter Chiara and youngest son, Luca. A defining moment came in 2005, when she and her husband Robert learned their hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts, was named one of the worst cities for asthma based on air quality measures such as high pollution, unhealthy ozone days, pollen counts and more.
    The next step for her children, daily oral steroids, was unacceptable, says Kellogg, due to all the "terrible side effects." So on the advice of their pediatric pulmonologist, they made a difficult decision. They packed up their belongings, left family and friends, and moved 700 miles away to Wilmington, North Carolina, in search of a warmer, coastal climate with better air quality.
    "We needed to live within five miles of the ocean, said our doctor, because the constant breeze helps eliminate triggers in the air," explained Kellogg. "We made that move 10 years ago and never looked back."
    Her family's experience led Kellogg to become a certified asthma educator, and today she volunteers for the American Lung Association and other advocacy groups on behalf of those with asthma. After the United States Environmental Protection Agency highlighted the Kellogg's struggle in a 2015 video, they were invited to the White House for the signing of the Clean Power Plan, President Barack Obama's signature policy to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
    "That is a moment we will never forget," said Kellogg.
    President Barak Obama shakes Camryn Kellogg's hand while sister Chiara and brother Luca look on
    For her family, says Kellogg, the Trump administration decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan is frightening news.
    "It makes me want to cry. We need to protect the air that we breathe, we need to protect the health of all children," said Kellogg. "No one should have to relocate to breathe clean air."

    The Clean Power Plan

    Announced by the Obama administration in August 2015, the Clean Power Plan was designed to set high-stakes limits on carbon particle pollution from US coal and gas-fired power plants. Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council say they are the largest contributor to climate change.
    On Tuesday, as he announced his proposal to repeal the Obama-era regulation, US EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said, "we are committed to righting the wrongs of the Obama administration by cleaning the regulatory slate."
    The EPA criticized the Obama administration's cost-benefit analysis, claiming it overestimated domestic climate benefits and miscalculated energy costs and savings. Repealing the Clean Power Act, said the EPA, will save up to $33 billion in avoided compliance costs in 2030.
    "With this action, the Trump administration is respecting states' role and reinstating transparency into how we protect our environment," Pruitt said in a news release. "Any replacement rule will be done carefully, properly, and with humility, by listening to all those affected by the rule."
    Eighteen health and medical organizations immediately released a collective statement saying they are "deeply disappointed" by the administration's action.
    "Today's proposal to revoke the Clean Power Plan is inconsistent with EPA's core mission of protecting public health and the environment," said the statement, signed by the American Lung Association, Allergy and Asthma Network, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, American Public Health Association and National Medical Association, among others.
    The National Association of County and City Health Officials, which represents approximately 3,000 local health departments, also joined the chorus of dissent.
    "If fully implemented, the Clean Power Plan would have reduced carbon pollution from power plants and prevented an estimated 90,000 asthma attacks, 1,700 heart attacks, and 3,600 premature deaths each year, when fully implemented," they said in a statement.
    "It's not just asthma and it's not just children," said Paul Billings, national senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association, in an interview. "Pollution from power plants can affect anyone. People with chronic diseases, like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and asthma are especially vulnerable."
    According to Billings, that's because particle pollution, a mixture of solid and liquid droplets floating in the air, penetrates deeply into the lungs, getting past the body's natural defenses.
    "It's been shown through decades of research to increase premature mortality," he added, "contributing to cardiovascular events, heart attacks and strokes. It increases coughing and wheezing even in healthy adults."
    Research also shows that particle pollution doesn't just impact those who live nearby power plants.
    "It rises into the atmosphere and is carried by currents across wide swathes of the country, and then comes down to breathing levels, affecting those hundreds of miles away," explained Billings.

    Children are especially vulnerable

    While poor air quality affects all of us, it can be especially hard on children.
    The Children's Health Study, which has been following more than 11,000 southern California schoolchildren since 1992, found living in areas with higher air pollution caused measurable lung damage, increased risk for asthma, higher levels of respiratory infections and more school absences.
    "Children are not just little adults," explained Billings. "They breathe at a higher rate, they inhale more air each day, are more active, and are not as in tune with their bodies when they are not feeling well."
    The University of Southern California study has also documented changes in children's health as air quality has improved in towns and cities over the course of the 25-year study. A 2015 paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the lungs of children tested between 2007 and 2011 were better than those of same-age children, from the same communities, tested between the years 1994 and 1998 and again during 1997 and 2001. The results, say the researchers, paralleled the improvement in air quality in those communities over the years.
    The Kellogg family moved to North Carolina to keep everyone healthy.

    'Moments of grace'

    Ten years after moving away from their hometown, the Kelloggs feel blessed by the change in their children. Their oldest son, Camryn, now 18, was a top saxophone player in high school, and received a four-year scholarship to college.
    "We have so many moments of grace," said Kellogg. "If you'd told me 10 years ago that my son would beautifully play a wind instrument, I would have asked you what comic book are you writing? He didn't have the lung function.
    "Our daughter Chiara, who is 16 now, has a beautiful singing voice, and is in choir and school plays. Our youngest son, Luca, who is 11, plays baseball and has turned into quite an athlete," Kellogg continued.
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    "We just feel so blessed because our children were able to achieve their God-given potential, but if we had stayed in dirty air, we would never have seen this happen."
    Seeing the Trump administration's decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan as "deflating," Kellogg says politics should have nothing to do with the quality of the air that children breathe.
    "I want to be someone who gives hope," said Kellogg, vowing to continue to speak out about the needs of the vulnerable and urging others to join her. "United we can act, and use our voices to respectfully ask our politicians to do what is right for our nation."