When dirty air gets personal
By Laura Rodriguez
Laura Rodriquez treats Angela, her youngest daughter, for asthma.
LONG BEACH ALLIANCE FOR CHILDREN WITH ASTHMA
When does dirty air get personal? I live in Long Beach near the 710 Freeway with my five children: Karla, 16; Juliana, 14; Zachary, 11; Jorge, 8; and Angela, 5. Four of my kids suffer from allergies and asthma, as do I. My children’s asthma is under control, but I live in constant fear of the day when they suffer a debilitating asthma attack—all because of where I live.
Long Beach, despite its beautiful seaside location, is one of the most polluted cities in the United States. The pollution comes from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which together are the largest port in the nation, an abundance of nearby refineries and exhaust from too many freeways—the 91, 105, 405, 605 and the 710, the last one considered by many as a diesel death zone.
As pollution rises, so does the number of medical cases reported by residents who live near the 710 Freeway. This roadway earns its deadly moniker because of the number of diesel trucks that travel on it every day to transport goods that come through the ports to different parts of the nation. Consumers like the opportunity to buy these goods at a low price. But not included in the cost of a cheap camera or clock is the price that cities—and their residents—pay every day with their health.
For my family, bad air quality days bring stress—and has forced us to change the way we live. Juliana, my second oldest, goes online to check air quality every day. On bad days, we can’t chance being around any mobile pollution sources, such as school buses, trucks, trains… even people who smoke.
I keep these habits because, as an individual, I’m afraid of having an asthma attack. As a mother, I fear the desperation and panic that comes when one of my children has an asthma attack—always knowing that any random attack could be deadly.
To allay my fears, my children’s medication is stuck to me like a magnet. I keep medication everywhere I can think of: the kitchen, cars, bedrooms, schools and my purse. I always have to be ready.
I remember Juliana’s first asthma attack on Fourth of July 2005 at Bolsa Chica Beach. The kids were playing on the beach when she turned purple and couldn’t breathe. She was desperate, flailing her arms and doing hand signals to communicate to me that she couldn’t breathe. I heard only wheezing from her chest.
I always carry an inhaler (albuterol) and I gave her two puffs and she calmed down. I told her to rest so she would not become agitated and have another attack. For Juliana, the holiday was spent sitting next to me without being able to move. The next day, she was diagnosed with asthma. I was so sad that another of my children would be suffering with the disease.
What does asthma do? An asthma attack includes before and after symptoms. I know, for example, when Angela, my youngest, is going to have an attack. She starts to feel irritated, downbeat, without energy and then she starts coughing. If I did not pay attention to the symptoms, she could have a more severe attack. The cruelest part is seeing her suffer, struggling to do what other people do easily: breathe.
After the symptoms diminish, Angela remains in state of exhaustion, coughing up phlegm and irritated. Even though she has had the attack, it affects the entire family. We have to restrict our outings to certain places like parks because of pollen and air pollution.
This is what parents of children who have asthma live with everyday. Sometimes I am asked why I don’t leave Long Beach. I don’t think that’s the answer. I want to be one of the people who help solve the problem so we—and the generations that come after us—can breathe clean air. If the solution were to leave Long Beach, the city would be deserted.
Instead I am fighting. I am part of the Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma (LBACA), a nonprofit organization that educates families about asthma and helps them find solutions to help decrease high pollution levels. LBACA helped me understand asthma, and how medications, triggers, the body’s respiratory system works. It also taught me the adverse affect of pollution. The organization also focuses on examining the sources of pollution and identifying the solutions. I believe, as a community that cares about the future and our children, we can clean up the air.