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Clean Water Action

Tackling Air Pollution in Massachusetts

Thu, 12/01/2022 - 00:00

Clean air is a human right, but Massachusetts could be doing more to ensure that all residents have safe air to breathe, regardless of their zip code. One underregulated contaminant is the toxic pollutant known as ultrafine particles (UFPs). UFPs are so small they cannot be seen with the naked eye, but they are part of the larger picture of dangerous air quality putting residents’ health at risk. 

The health impacts of “larger” fine particulate pollution (PM 2.5) are well documented. Some of these include respiratory failure, cancer, low birth weight, asthma, cardiovascular diseases, and stroke. In Massachusetts, it is estimated that over 2,700 people died from illnesses linked to fine particulate air pollution in 2019 alone. UFPs are less well studied but also pervasive.

UFPs, like other fine particulate pollution, are created from the combustion of fossil fuels and are released in the emissions from trucks, cars, diesel locomotives, buses, construction equipment, and other vehicles. Areas with heavy traffic have higher concentrations of UFPs, and the concentration rises and falls with traffic patterns. Communities with considerable traffic congestion are often environmental justice (EJ) communities, meaning they already are overburdened with overlapping health stressors including other sources of pollution and socioeconomic disparities. We should not wait to begin to implement policies that will protect residents from both fine AND ultrafine particulate pollution. Increasing access to air filters in buildings such as daycare facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, and schools can help improve air quality indoors. Additionally, establishing new robust air quality standards and increasing monitoring for UFPs in EJ communities can be a step in the right direction to address the levels of UFPs in overburdened neighborhoods. 

We need the Massachusetts Legislature to act now to improve the indoor and outdoor air quality for residents of the Commonwealth. In the 2021-2022 legislative session, Clean Water Action worked to advance an air quality bill, S1447, which would have helped to improve the air quality around the most affected cities and vulnerable neighborhoods. While we were disappointed that this bill did not pass, the proposed legislation launched essential discussions in the State House and EJ communities about the need to correct the injustice of poor air quality through comprehensive policy with a focus on communities that are most impacted. As human beings, it is our right to breathe fresh air. Clean Water Action will continue to work with elected officials here in Massachusetts to file strong legislation that will ensure better air quality for future generations.

Marilyn M Kaun is a MPH candidate and has been working as an intern at Clean Water Action since September 2022. 


Larson, Peter S., Leon Espira, Bailey E. Glenn, Miles C. Larson, Christopher S. Crowe, Seoyeon Jang, and Marie S. O’Neill. 2022. "Long-Term PM2.5 Exposure Is Associated with Symptoms of Acute Respiratory Infections among Children under Five Years of Age in Kenya, 2014" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 19, no. 5: 2525.

Thayer, K. L., Lane, K., Simon, M. C., Brugge, D., & Fuller, C. H. (2022). An exploratory analysis of sociodemographic characteristics with ultrafine particle concentrations in Boston, MA. PLOS ONE, 17(3), e0263434.

Schraufnagel, D.E. The health effects of ultrafine particles. Exp Mol Med 52, 311–317 (2020).

Categories: G3. Big Green

Clean Water 50 Stories: Sharon Jones

Thu, 12/01/2022 - 00:00

In honor of Clean Water Action's 50th birthday, we are lifting up voices and stories in the Clean Water movement through #CleanWater50Stories. Our story is the story of everyday people who have used their power to make a difference to create a healthier and greener future for all.

Meet Sharon Jones, former Canvass Director in our Belmar, New Jersey office!

What’s Your Connection to Clean Water?

I started canvassing with Clean Water Action in 1984 when they were in Sloan Street, South Orange, New Jersey, and I continued working with them and Canvass Direct until 2005. Just amazing. And the first thing I want to say is, congratulations. Happy anniversary to Clean Water Action for 50 years of just amazing organizing and winning and work. So now I live in North Carolina. I work with different groups but mostly I am a baker, but I like to stay involved because I learned through Clean Water Action that people make a difference. So, in different campaigns, I'll get involved. In fact, right now I am in a hotel room in Georgia because I'm down here working on the Senate and the Governor's race, along with others.

What Is Your Favorite Clean Water Memory or Story?

First of all, I love the fact that Clean Water Action, the key in there is action. In the canvass, we went door to door getting people involved. And I think of all the member groups that Clean Water Action in New Jersey and New Jersey Environmental Federation worked with, and just all the memories from seeing bills getting written and passed.

But the one that really sticks out the most was the experience of the Clean Water Enforcement Act. I remember sitting in a board meeting with all the member groups, the leaders on the board, and going around the table. And I think Amy Goldsmith's question [NJ State Director] was – “what would you want to see in this bill?” Because in New Jersey, there was just no enforcement of environmental laws. Companies just did whatever, more or less they wanted to. So, going around the table, different member groups said what they wanted to see. I wanted to see automatic high fines, mandatory jail terms. I remember one of the members said “we should make sure that the head of the company who makes the decision is the one who gets the jail funds and not the managers who are just carrying out what they're supposed to be or they supposed to do.” But what was so powerful to me was that we went around that table with members who were working with their own group saying, Ooh, I'd like to see this a wish list.

And then organizationally, they talked about who would be the state senator and the assemblyman who would introduce this bill. And just talked about building that and everything that went into getting this bill passed. And I remember in Asbury Park at the shore, the day that all our canvasses and board members came together when that bill was signed into law. And of course, Congressman Pallone was there. But to me that was one of the most powerful memories. We started out in a board room where it was, “oh, I'd like to see this, I'd like to see this…” and then finding the person who would introduce the bill and going into communities, organizing across the state, getting it passed, and the Clean Water Enforcement Act became law! One of the key things that we talked about at the door was automatic, high automatic fines, mandatory jail terms. And it happened.

And that experience continues today to just remind me that when people get together, you know we're government, we make those decisions, we have the power to get it done. And I'm sure there are organizations and people across the country who work with Clean Water in any capacity who have one of those same stories. And that's what just makes this 50th year so powerful, and we're just going to continue that. I always say we, I still feel such a part of the organization, and that's my fondest memory, the Clean Water Enforcement Act.

50 Years of Action for Clean Water is Worth Celebrating! Share your own Clean Water Story here, and support our work protecting clean water for the next 50 years here.

Make a Donation to Support Clean Water

Share Your Clean Water Story

Categories: G3. Big Green

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