Who we are
Mothers fighting for clean air for all children.
We are three mothers whose children have been impacted by air pollution in different ways in different places.
Our stories are not the same, but our mission is: to make sure that children everywhere no longer have to suffer disproportionately from the dangers of breathing poisoned air.
We know that children around the globe can grow up in a world that's committed to, and achieving, clean air for all. And we are working to make this possible.
Rosamund Kissi-Debrah’s story
I rushed my daughter Ella to hospital 28 times in her last 28 months of life. Each time, she gasped for breath as if she was drowning. I had to coax her out of an induced coma.
And those were just the times we had to go to hospital. She had hundreds of attacks, and often I was lucky enough to resuscitate her myself.
Ella spent those last couple of years knowing she might die. And she did, at the age of nine in 2013.
She was a healthy, active, sporty girl. She played football, cycled and swam. Yet she got so severely ill with asthma that simply breathing became a struggle.
About eight years after her death, in December 2020, a coroner finally confirmed what was a significant cause of Ella's death and disease: the air pollution spewing from traffic near our home. We live just 25 metres from one of the most congested roads in the UK, where, it turns out, the air pollution persistently exceeds the levels deemed acceptable by the World Health Organization.
Ella is now the first person in the UK, and likely the world, to have air pollution listed as a cause of death on her death certificate. The coroner who ruled on Ella’s cause of death did so based on one key finding: that Ella was exposed to levels of air pollution higher than those contained in WHO Air Quality Guidelines.
Ella’s reaction to air pollution was extreme in its severity. Her case is unique, as the only person in the world to have air pollution listed on her death certificate. Yet her experience is worryingly normal.
Nine out of ten children worldwide are still breathing dirty air. One out of five premature deaths worldwide is caused by fumes from burning fossil fuels in combustion engine vehicles, coal-fired power plants and cooking stoves. That’s nearly 9 million people dying from air-pollution-related lung and heart disease, cancer and other illnesses every year.
In the UK, 1 out of 11 children and one out of 12 adults suffers from asthma. Every 10 seconds, someone in the country is having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.
If I’d have known when she was alive, I would have moved home immediately. Any parent would do whatever is in their power to save their child from an entirely preventable illness and death.
But we don’t always have the information or freedom to do what’s necessary. I may have been able to move to a cleaner street, but there are millions of families and children around the world living near busy roads, coal power stations, construction sites or farms with crop burning. And they don’t all have the power to pick up and move - even if they were aware of the invisible poison lurking in their air, which most are not.
The coroner who looked at Ella’s case set out three key concerns that, if addressed, would prevent future deaths like hers. The steps that must be taken to address these concerns can be taken all around the world, and this is what I am calling on every country to do to save their youngest generations from a future of poor health and untimely death.
First, mandate and follow the WHO’s air quality guidelines. The WHO is releasing new, stricter guidelines this year. They will only be achieved if governments step up and take responsibility for following them. Second, provide local and real-time air quality data and raise awareness about it. People deserve to know what they’re breathing. Third, train medical professionals to spot the potential impacts of air pollution in the symptoms they treat, and to speak to patients and carers about it.
I’ve heard from parents, teachers and health professionals around the world who have read about Ella and worry that the children they care for are also suffering from air pollution.
This needs to end. Parents shouldn’t have to worry about the air their kids breathe when they walk to school, cycle around the park or play in their back garden.
It’s time for governments to commit to meeting the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines, and guarantee every child’s right to breathe clean air.
Bhavreen Kandhari’s story
Bhavreen Kandhari is co-founder of the Warrior Moms Collective in India.
"I’m a mother to twin athletic teenage girls who play junior-level national basketball.
My strong, precious babies successfully battled every complication that came from being born prematurely. But now they face another massive challenge - they live with a very high risk of developing respiratory infections that stem from Delhi’s excessively polluted air.
Like any mom, my prime responsibility is to make sure my children remain healthy and lead healthy lifestyles. As toddlers, they had the typical symptoms of runny noses and coughs all year round. While most of us took it for allergies; they disappeared rather magically when we left the city.
This led me to read & research a bit more on air & I saw how London was battling smog. Unfortunately, in those years a lot of doctors didn’t speak about the radical impacts that polluted air had on our health. But upon reading a UNICEF study that showed how air pollution can permanently damage a child’s brain - I knew something had to be done about the pandemic of unclean air.
To take charge, like any mother would to protect her children, I began my study on air pollution. For my children to have the lungs of a smoker by their teens, through no fault of their own, was absolutely unacceptable to me.
When you realise that this is millions of children we are talking about, it becomes an official health disaster—but that wasn’t the case for our government/s. Not much was being done & all were in denial.
Trying to give my kids the best in every way, how could I ignore that they were breathing in the most polluted capital of the world & playing sports in these severe AQIs was causing permanent damage?
Now I battle between this bitter truth and two teenagers who obviously don’t want to give up their childhood passion of playing sports.
But I cannot win this battle alone – and that’s why I, along with other concerned mothers, facilitated the rise and management of Warrior Moms, so that together we could make a difference. I’m really hoping that by connecting here with mothers from all over the world and sharing our stories and ideas for what we can do to help end this horror, we will be more powerful and force real change".
Patrice Tomcik’s story
Patrice Tomcik is National Field Manager for Moms Clean Air Force.
"I live in Southwestern Pennsylvania. When my sons were little, we moved here for the open green spaces and beautiful rolling hills. It looked like a healthy place to raise children, but a month after moving into our new home, my three-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia. It was devastating. Thankfully, the three and a half years of treatments worked.
After his treatments ended, I was determined to never give cancer the opportunity to come back into my son’s life. As a cancer survivor, I know he is at higher risk of having cancer again. I went to great lengths to take all the toxins out of my son’s life, to control what I could control. So, when I learned that the natural gas industry wanted to ‘frack’ under my son’s school, I had to fight for his health. This was something new for me since I never considered myself an environmental activist.
My sons’ school is located on top of the Marcellus shale, one of the largest productive natural gas shale deposits in the US. At first, the gas industry approached our School Board and asked to drill underneath our school campus. Parents found out only four days before the school board was going to vote on it. To be honest, I’m just an ordinary mom and wasn’t looking for a battle, but I had to do something to protect my children. Parents gathered over 900 signatures on a petition opposing leasing the land under our school to be drilled.
We were thankful that the school district voted against drilling under the school, but that did not stop the well pad with the five natural gas wells from being proposed a half-mile away. Thankfully, I found some other parents in my community who wanted to protect their children’s health and safety too. We started a Facebook page with 400 members so we could communicate with each other. That’s when I learned the power of finding others in your community to stand with you.
Some of us took a more active role within our parent group, offering our skills where needed, and I tackled the science and public health issues related to natural gas operations. I learned that air pollution is associated with every phase of both oil and gas development. Diesel trucks and diesel motors that power the drill rig and equipment on the gas well pad spew harmful exhaust, including particulate matter. When the actual drilling happens, there are other pollutants that put health and safety at risk. These include methane and volatile organic compounds (VOC) that contribute to forming ground level ozone or smog. Smog can cause asthma attacks and damage children’s developing lungs.
But, learning that benzene which is a VOC often associated with natural gas operations brought me to my knees. Benzene is a known neurotoxin, and causes childhood leukemia. To know that I could be sending my child to school, which should be a safe place, but instead could be a cancer trigger, was extremely upsetting. How could I send my cancer survivor into an environment that could cause cancer?
Our parent group got organized and put a plan into motion.
We met with our school board, local environmental regulatory agency, local officials, and state representatives explaining that the gas wells would be located too close to the schools, putting 3,200 students' health and safety at risk. We went to the media to tell our story. We asked our neighbors to send letters to the school board, township, regulatory agency, representatives, and the media. This drew a lot of attention to the issue but also created tensions among neighbors. Those who wanted to lease their land to the natural gas industry for profit were very upset with our parent group, but all we wanted to do is protect our children. Unfortunately, we were not able to stop all the gas wells from being drilled, but we did get the number reduced to two gas wells and extra protections put in place.
What I have learned is that I can control many things in my children’s lives but I can’t control the quality of the air my children breathe outside. For this, I depend on our leaders. I will hold them accountable. I am not afraid to do that because it is my right as a mother and a resident. I now realize the power of my voice and the power of a community’s voice. That’s why I joined Moms Clean Air Force. I want to protect children who live, learn, and play near oil and gas operations while working to increase our use of clean and healthy energy sources.
Across the nation, there are many people whose health is put at risk from the oil and gas industry. 2.9 million children like mine go to school within one-half mile of oil and gas facilities. 12.6 million people live within one-half mile of oil and gas facilities. My hope is that people will take action to protect children from air pollution. Every person's voice is powerful and together we can make a huge difference. Just look what a group of parents were able to accomplish in my town. We had 900 signatures on a petition that stopped the drilling from going under our school. Before, I underestimated the power of my voice. I won’t do that again. When I hold leaders accountable for my children’s health, that is powerful".