This weekend, some fellow Coal-Free Washington activists and I will be hitting the islands for some heart pumping activism. We’re joining the American Lung Association of Washington’s annual Trek Tri-island, a 150 mile “fight for clean air” bike ride through the San Juan Islands. Though we’ve fundraised over $1700 for the American Lung Association of Washington, our motivation for riding goes beyond supporting the ALAW in their work for clean air and healthy lungs, we’re riding to raise awareness for coal’s devastating impact on our health.
Coal pollutants affect all major body organ systems and contribute to four of the five leading causes of mortality in the United States: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory diseases. Luckily, there are healthier ways to power our lives and Washington can help lead the nation towards a coal-free future by transitioning TransAlta off coal by 2015.
Here we are, the “Coal-Free Washington” Trek team, training on the Burke-Gillman. Yes, we are a quirky bunch. But we are a quirky bunch united by our disgust with the excess of hazardous air pollutants and toxins released by the TransAlta coal plant.
One may say that spending the weekend in the San Juan Islands doesn’t exactly equal sacrifice for a cause, but if you’re me, biking 150 miles anywhere warrants a bit of recognition. I mean, sure, I ride my bike. I’m an earth junkie trying my best to lessen my footprint. The truth is, however, that my relationship to my bicycle is more of a getting from point A to point B type of situation. So, what is it that’s motivating me to push my bike limits from a 15 minute pedal to the office to a 150 mile jaunt through the hills of Orcas island?
The TransAlta coal plant.
Washington’s coal plant in Centralia, owned by the Canadian corporation, TransAlta, is our state’s worst polluter. It is Washington’s largest point source of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury pollution. Further, TransAlta annually releases 2.3 million tons of toxic coal ash.
But why did we choose to join a ride for healthy lungs?
Nitrogen oxide and small particulates-both emitted during coal combustion-adversely affect lung development in children, reducing forced expiratory volume (FEV). Forced expiratory volume is an indication of lung function and a reduction in FEV often precedes the subsequent development of other pulmonary diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) asthma.
The Center for Disease Control has identified Washington’s asthma prevalence as among the highest in the nation, and the proportion of the state population with asthma is steadily increasing. Our ability to breathe freely should not be limited by unnecessary causes of asthma. Coal is undeniably an unnecessary cause of asthma and lung damage. It’s time to move beyond coal.
There are healthier ways to power our lives. TransAlta should be held accountable for its damage to the health of Washingtonians. The Coal-Free team is pumped up and ready to hit the islands and fight for clean air, as displayed by Bill’s elated bicycle lift.
Buck up, Washington. Move Washington beyond coal and show the rest of the nation how to build a healthy energy future. We can and must transition TransAlta off coal by 2015.