Freedom Papers

Open Letter and Call to Action: Protect Madison - Air Quality Is A Health Equity Issue

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Over the past few days, Freedom, Inc. has received an outpouring of requests for M-95 masks and air purifiers from our elderly members and those with young children. They have seen the news about the Canadian wildfires creating dangerous conditions for us here in the Northeast about the "red sky" and the asthma flare-ups and hospitalizations of their children and grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They are wondering why the mayor or county hasn't said or done anything.

As Freedom, Inc. prepares to mobilize over $50,000 in rapid response mutual aid over the next few days, we are wondering the same thing. Where are our leaders in this impending public health and safety crisis?

Since the beginning of June, wildfires in Canada have impacted multiple provinces and states, resulting in air quality advisories and putting people at higher health risk. The severity of the situation was demonstrated earlier this month when an orange haze covered New York City. It is evident that Canada's wildfires are intensifying, and this is only the beginning of the wildfire season.

On the afternoon of Monday, June 26th, the air quality in Madison plummeted from moderate to unhealthy, with an air quality index (API) of 164, with particulate matter small enough to enter our lungs. Madison reached an exposure level of PM2.5, putting people at a higher risk of infection and worsening existing respiratory problems. These significant public health concerns must be addressed, and actions must be taken to limit the health risks to the Madison community, particularly among the economically, socially, and health vulnerable.

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is the most significant environmental health risk today and is estimated to contribute to 7 million premature deaths annually. Approximately 91% of the world's population lives in places where air quality is unhealthy.

The worsening air quality is a health equity issue that disproportionately affects marginalized communities, including Black people, people of color, refugees, immigrants, and poor people. These communities are more likely to live near factories and dumpsites and have less access to resources like filtered air ventilation, air purifiers, masks, and health insurance that would protect them from poor air quality.

The lack of timely response from local governments to address these safety and health concerns is telling of the current budgeting patterns and priorities of our local government. We continue to see an overwhelming amount of resources meant for public safety being poured into the police force, an institution that cannot fight forest fires, or improve the air quality. While our local leadership continues to fund them at disproportionate rates to actual life-affirming infrastructure, such as housing and food security, we all continue to suffer the consequences as they are unable to respond in a timely manner to our actual health and safety needs. Public safety for our communities means divesting from the police and pouring into resources that actually keep us safe. Public safety for our communities looks like holistic healthcare, financial stability, and housing for all. Public safety for our communities is community control. By the community, for the community.

Given the hazardous air quality in Madison, we call upon the elected officials of Madison and Dane County to protect the local community by issuing an emergency shelter-at-home order anytime the AQI climbs above 151, levels considered 'unhealthy' by federal environmental and health agencies. An Emergency shelter-at-home order will minimize the exposure of Madison residents to harmful air pollution, ultimately reducing the risk of respiratory infections and other health problems.

Further, the Capitol Building and other government buildings must be open to unhoused people who are at an increased risk of exposure to worsening air quality. Local recreation centers, churches, malls, and other facilities should also be available to anyone in the general public who does not have access to air filters or other pollutant mitigation equipment or families lacking physical space at home, particularly families with children.

Of course, shelter-at-home orders do not impact all people the same. People who can afford to take off work or work remotely are not impacted like those who do manual labor, outdoor labor, or people who simply cannot afford to miss work. As such, we advocate for investment in public health by guaranteeing the income of low-to-no-income individuals who are financially impacted by shelter-at-home orders.

In addition, those designated as "essential workers," who cannot shelter at home due to the public interest of their work, must be provided with adequate personal protective equipment and hazard pay.

Freedom, Inc. will continue to protect our community by providing life-saving services and resources. We will continue to push elected officials to invest in our communities. We will pour resources into providing rapid response resources to combat health equity issues. Because we under that, WE KEEP US SAFE.

Love & Power,
Freedom, Inc.