Guest columnist Dr. Aparna Bole, MD, FAAP, is medical director of community integration at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and an associate professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. She is a founding advisory council member of the Ohio Clinicians for Climate Action. For this essay, Bole collaborated with Ariunaa Bayanjargal, MD/PhD student at The Ohio State University specializing in childhood cancer research and Dr. William Hardie, a pediatric pulmonologist in Cincinnati.
Ohio medical professionals such as myself have a responsibility to care for our patients’ immediate health concerns. We know that the welfare of our patients depends on having access not only to excellent health care, but also to healthy food, water and air.
For this to happen, our elected officials need to accelerate our state’s transition to a renewable-energy economy.
Ohio is among the top 10 energy consumers in the United States. Currently, the majority of our power supply comes from more than 20 coal and natural gas power plants. Due to these power plants, high-emission industries and our transportation infrastructure, Ohio ranks sixth in carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.
Air pollution related to fossil fuel combustion — including sulfur dioxide, surface ozone and fine particulate matter — causes a host of health harms to Ohioans, especially to our children.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s 2019 report on the Top 100 Asthma Capitals ranked Akron, Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo, Columbus and Cincinnati among the most challenging places to live for people with asthma.
Over 250,000 of Ohio’s children have asthma, and African-American and Hispanic children are disproportionately impacted.
Air pollution both causes and exacerbates asthma, and also contributes to poor birth outcomes such as premature birth andlow birth weight, both of which are risk factors for infant mortality, a public health crisis in our state.
Moreover, astudy conducted by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that children exposed to traffic-related air pollution showed reductions in brain size and cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid cushioning the brain), leading to various developmental and physical delays.
Even prenatal exposure to air pollution affects kids’ learning, cognition, attention and sleep. These are a few of many examples. The list of studies highlighting the harmful health effects of our current energy sector is growing each day.
Even though the health harms of fossil-fuel burning has been documented extensively, too little has been done at the state level to advance clean, renewable energy and sustainable, equitable transportation.
One of the most recent examples is the passing of House Bill 6, which rolled back renewable-energy standards and energy-efficiency programs, while subsidizing two coal-fired power plants.
Fortunately, many Ohio cities — like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and others — have stepped up to help fill the void of state leadership and have used aggregation to commit to 100 percent renewable energy.
These communities are serving as an example of what can be done to commit to improving air quality and ensuring a healthy environment for our citizens; it is time for the State of Ohio to follow their lead.
The good news is, when compared with the rest of the country, Ohio is at the top of the list in potential health and economic benefits we realize from clean-energy investment. We urge our elected state leaders to accelerate bold, decisive, equitable actions toward a clean-energy economy to protect the health of all Ohioans.
As health professionals living and working in Ohio, we ask the state legislature and governor to immediately reinstate Ohio’s renewable-energy standards and energy-efficiency programs, to invest in public transportation and improve electric vehicle infrastructure, and to set concrete goals to transition fossil fuel-based power plants to renewable energy by 2050.
The health of Ohio’s families — especially our children — depends on it.
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