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Houston Residents Breathe Easy Thanks to The Air Alliance

By Pamela Sosnowski

In many parts of the world, clean air is taken for granted. In the Houston area, however, one group recognizes the importance of healthy air and is striving to ensure its residents will always breathe easy: Air Alliance Houston (AAH.)

According to the AAH, air quality has a direct impact on the quality of life. "People living with poor air quality are more likely to experience a variety of negative health outcomes," says Adrian Shelley, Executive Director. "From mild symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, itchy eyes, wheezing, and skin irritation, to more serious impacts such as exacerbation of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, cancer, stroke, and even premature death."

"In many cases, communities burdened with excessive air pollution face other negative stressors as well," explains Shelley. Communities suffering from poor air quality also tend to be low income communities that experience poorer overall health, less access to health care, health insurance, and healthy food, and tend to live in poverty.

The organization owes its history to two small citizen groups that were formed to advocate for cleaner air measures. The first was GHASP, the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention, started in 1988 by a group of concerned citizens that joined forces to prevent and eliminate Houston-area smog. The second, MfCA (Mothers for Clean Air), was created in 1996. In 2008, the two groups joined forces and two years later renamed themselves Air Alliance Houston. AAH's mission is "to reduce air pollution in the Houston region and protect public health and environmental integrity through research, education, and advocacy."

Most importantly, the group wants "a healthier future for all of Houston, especially our children." That's why the Ozone Theater, a free youth education program that reaches 6,000 students annually, is one of AAH's most popular community outreach activities. Other projects include the Houston Clean Air Network, the only regional real-time map of ozone pollution available anywhere in the world and "toxic tours" of Houston's petrochemical and ports complex. AAH is also the organizer of Earth Day Houston, an annual city event that celebrates Earth Day and raises awareness of maintaining the environment.

In addition to community outreach, the organization is also heavily involved with local and state government measures to protect the air. Members participate in regulatory and legislative processes, testify at hearings, and comment on proposals. A long-range plan showing the progress of partnering with government agencies to reduce air pollution is available on the group's website.

Shelley says that the best way citizens can reduce and prevent air pollution is to get involved with AAH. They may donate to the non-profit through the website, or "call or email our organization with questions, concerns, or complaints about air pollution in the region. Voice your support for common-sense pollution protections to improve the health of Houstonians."

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