July 19, 2016 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor
I sent the following letter to the editors of the Evansville Courier Press and the Henderson Gleaner to commemorate the sad tenth anniversary of Henderson HS football player, Ryan Owens.
“Ryan Owens took his last breath ten years ago Tuesday,” the lead of your story “Ryan’s Legacy” July 19, 2016 was certainly appropriate although without intention.
Breathing pollution may have been the real cause of Ryan’s tragic death which was ultimately blamed on a heart condition, brought on by heat and exertion at a Henderson High School football practice.
On the day Ryan passed, not only were we in a serious weeklong heat spell, but that was also a day when fine particle pollution in the region reached levels more than twice the health based standard set by the USEPA. In fact, the level that morning was extraordinarily high at the time of the practice where Ryan collapsed and later died. Further investigation also reveals that the temperature that morning was in the low 80s and had not reached the levels it would later in the afternoon that day. Thus, temperature is not likely the only geophysical attribute involved.
Research before and after Ryan’s death has shown that the same heart “defect” Ryan had is also one that can present serious health problems on days when fine particle pollution is high or even moderate when other factors like strenuous exercise are present. Of course, that is why it is important to take precaution when so called “Air Pollution Alerts” are issued for “sensitive people” since that category includes young athletes and the elderly.
Following Ryan’s death, Valley Watch has made a nearly futile effort to insist that all schools adhere to strict compliance with air pollution alerts as they are issued, both for ozone and fine particles. When there is an air alert, schools should cancel outdoor practice and move the practice into weather controlled gyms to keep their students safe.
The same goes for Band practice since Band members also exert a great deal of energy playing instruments from the Tuba to Drums. And I don’t think Band members are required to undergo any sort of physical exam to show their physical worthiness of participating like their athlete counterparts are required. It seems many school officials wear blinders when it comes to air pollution and simply dismiss the science that shows a distinct correlation between numerous health problems, including death, and high pollution days. Valley Watch’s outreach to local and regional school officials has shown that there is huge resistance to canceling practice and cancelling a game would take divine intervention regardless of the level of air pollution that may be present.
Such refusal belies the rhetoric espoused by almost everyone that student safety is foremost in the minds of educators.
Valley Watch would be happy to share EPA data that backs our position with any teacher or official who requests it. Simply contact: Blair@valleywatch.net