When Mr. PunditMom and I traveled to China to bring home our daughter, the amazing PunditGirl, we knew that the air quality in Chinese cities was, shall we say, not so fine.  No need for statistics or studies — you can see it, and you can feel it after just a couple of days as you start coughing and wheezing and wondering if you’ll be able to take a deep breath again.

There’s a reason there’s so much spitting in the large Chinese cities — you’ve just got to get that stuff out of your lungs any way possible.

But we were glad that we would be able to bring our little girl home to a place where she’d be able to breathe more freely, where the air was more suitable for developing lungs as she ran and played outside in our big back yard.

Sadly, while our air may look cleaner on certain days than what we saw most when we were in large Chinese cities like Beijing, our clear blue skies are deceiving.  According to a new report toxins in our air are making us and our children sicker every year, with environmentally caused illnesses in children costing $76.6 billion dollars a year.

Yeah — that’s “billion” with a “B.”  The cost to help out kids with their asthma is $2.2 billion dollars.

It sort of makes you wonder where the priorities are for our lawmakers — the ones who work hard with lobbyists to cut their polluting corporate constituents tax breaks for the “good of the economy.”  But when it comes to the good of our children, they’re not so focused or concerned about what it costs the families of those children.  It’s no big surprise — kids don’t contribute a lot of money to re-election campaigns. But big corporations who don’t want clean air standards enforced or beefed up because it would cost them too much money to update or remediate their plants?  Their money does some serious talking in Washington. D.C.

So where are the people who are supposed to be keeping all that crap (yes, that’s a technical term) like mercury and lead out of the air?

As we all go back and forth on the never-ending health care debate, lawmakers need to be convinced that one way to cut those health care costs is to make sure that the corporate culprits who are pumping tons of pollutants into our skies either must cut back on harmful emissions or pick up the tab for all our sick kids.

Do you know any American school class that doesn’t have at least one child with asthma?  I bet there are a lot of moms who would love just one Mother’s Day gift this year — for their children’s air to be cleaner so they can stop worrying about severe asthma, childhood cancer, and other diseases that could impact their families.  I think I can speak for all of us when I say we’d rather have that than any gift money can buy, especially if that means we can avoid the spitting!

Beijing, 2010. Image by Joanne Bamberger, all rights reserved.