Moms Clean Air Force, Allergy & Asthma Network and other children’s health and advocacy groups came together May 2 to create an art installation of school lunch boxes and trays in Washington, D.C. – a unique way to highlight the 77,000 children who miss school every day due to asthma.

Spread across a grassy area at Columbus Circle just outside Union Station, the installation was designed to raise awareness of the real cost of policies that cut finding to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), dismantle clean air protections, and reverse rules on ozone and climate change.

Each lunch box or tray in the installation represented 100 children missing school that day due to asthma, for a total of 770 lunchboxes and trays. Handwritten notes about the impact of asthma on children across the United States were displayed next to many lunch boxes.

“Too many children miss school each day because of asthma,” said Gretchen Dahlkemper, Field Director for Moms Clean Air Force, a community of parents who work together to combat air pollution. “We know air pollution makes asthma worse. We shouldn’t be making America dirty again – we should be protecting children from pollution so they can learn, play, and thrive.”

Tonya Winders, President and CEO of Allergy & Asthma Network, was among speakers at a press conference during the daylong installation.

“Six million children in the United States are diagnosed with asthma and it is the number one reason children miss school,” Winders said. “Asthma is due to both genetic and environmental factors and that’s why we are partnering with Moms Clean Air Force and other groups to raise awareness of climate change and its impact on lung health. We are experiencing longer, stronger pollen seasons and more extreme weather events – both wreak havoc on those living with asthma.

“Clean air is a universal human right. We must tell our state and federal decision-makers to stand strong in defense of clean air policies that protect our environment. This is about people, not politics.”

The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and Breathe DC were among other organizations involved in the event, which takes place on World Asthma Day.

“Imagine how scary it must be for a child not to be able to breathe. As a nurse, it’s my job to help kids and their families prevent asthma attacks so they can do what kids do best – go to school, play with their friends, and just be kids,” said Katie Huffling, RN, Executive Director of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. “Clean air is essential to healthy lungs. We have an epidemic of childhood asthma in this country and this is only going to get worse if clean air protections are rolled back.”

“Asthma is a chronic disease that places enormous burdens on our healthcare system in costs for medication, emergency room visits, hospitalizations and routine care,” added Janet A. Phoenix, MD, MPH, Program Manager of Asthma and Health Education Services with Breathe DC and Chairperson of the DC Asthma Coalition. “It also makes it harder for parents to seek and maintain employment as they frequently miss work when their children miss school.”

The lunchboxes, trays and apples that were part of the installation were donated to charity at the conclusion of the event.