My ancestral roots are in Virginia’s Blue Ridge, but I spent much of my childhood in West Virginia’s capital city. Charleston, like my hometown of Glasgow, has two rivers; the difference between them is that while Glasgow’s sections of the Maury and the James are known for their Arcadian beauty and outdoor recreation, the portions of the Kanawha and the Elk that flow through Charleston are infamous for their pollution.
As a child, I was not allowed to indulge in drinking the sap from wild honeysuckle or experience the youthful magic of allowing snowflakes to fall upon my tongue. There was a common urban legend that mutated fish as large as a sedan swam in the Kanawha River. While that rumor was demonstrably false, what wasn’t untrue was the amount of dioxin affected fish dying en masse in the river. That doesn’t even take into account the human impact from plants like Dow, Union Carbide, DuPont and Monsanto that all operated alongside the river. I can speak directly as an individual who had her health negatively impacted by the dirty industry so prevalent in the region known as West Virginia’s chemical valley.
West Virginia has some of the highest prevalences of asthma and COPD in the nation for a reason, and I was no different. The terror of a closing throat, choking for even a single full breath, is nothing no child should ever experience, but it was a common event for me. I suffered frequent asthma attacks, accompanied by bouts with bronchitis severe enough to send me to the hospital. The wet misery of being tethered down to a nebulizer every night is something I will never forget. I missed critical instructional time, so much that upon my return, my classmates informed me that they had believed I’d moved away. I couldn’t run and play at recess like any other eight year old, and it was all because of environmental pollution.
Moving home to Glasgow seemingly eliminated my symptoms overnight. I could run, I could sleep soundly, and I could play a woodwind instrument without running out of air halfway through a whole note. One could attribute my recovery to simply maturing out of a case of childhood asthma, but upon a recent visit to Philadelphia, one of the nation’s worst cities for air pollution, my symptoms returned in full swing.
I’m thankful for the Blue Ridge’s clean air, but I’m also concerned that it is being taken for granted. Virginia Republicans are desperate to repeal the climate and energy bills the Democratic legislature enacted in 2021; dozens of bills were introduced this past session, but the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the Virginia Clean Economy Act, and the Clean Cars bill are all at risk again in 2024. We don’t have time to play games when it comes to green energy solutions — there are lives and futures hanging in the balance. I don’t want what happened to me in West Virginia to be repeated here. Unregulated industrialism hurts the poor and middle class the most — it’s not right for the people of the 3rd senate district, and it’s not right for Virginia.
My experience as a child influenced my commitment to protecting our environment, and my recovery as an adolescent cemented it. Our environment needs good stewards in our government to protect it from bad actors. In Virginia’s General Assembly, I will be a bulwark against any attacks on these pieces of critical legislation; furthermore, I will propose additional legislation to ensure Virginia’s children have access to safe, breathable air, clean drinkable water, and a future free from industrial carcinogens. Your support, donation, and/or vote (especially vote!) is crucial to making that future a reality. Will you help me today?
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