One Small Step
Little Lobbyist Makes a Case for Clean Air
Samantha Hermsen Wauwatosa, Wisconsin
"Ive had asthma since I was eight years old. Im on soccer and basketball teams, but when I exercise or when there is a lot of exhaust in the air, I have trouble breathing and my chest hurts. I use my inhaler before I play sports, which isnt very fun. It tastes bad, too. Some days are worse than others; its not that bad when Im not doing anything, but even then sometimes when I breathe in a lot of car fumes, my chest will really start to hurt. We live pretty close to a highway that the government wants to widen. Thats one reason I went to Washington, D.C., to say I didnt like that idea.
"Id never been to Washington before. I went with my mom. She has a friend whos in the Sierra Club and who knew about my asthma. Last year, her friend asked me to be on a postcard for the Club. [The postcard, addressed to Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle, quoted Samantha about her condition and thanked him for using $500 million earmarked for highways to fund schools, firefighters, police, and local governments instead.] Thats when I started learning about the connection between air pollution and asthma.
"We went to the offices of Wisconsin senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold and I talked to their assistants. I told them how hard it is to breathe when the air is bad. I was hoping theyd pay more attention to pollution and stop widening highways around where I live. I mean, if its wider, theres more cars and more exhaust. I was kind of nervous at first but then I got used to it. Id never done anything like this before. I think they listened. I hope so."
Take a deep breath: Atlanta, Georgia, prepared for the 1996 summer Olympics by upgrading its public transportation system. A 2001 study by the Centers for Disease Control showed the citys winning results: During the games, traffic congestion dropped by 22 percent, air pollution by 28 percent, and asthma attacks by 44 percent.