Why I Care About Clean Air

Nov 2, 2017

Ariyani Challapalli

Ariyani Challapalli

MAHA Intern

Ever since I started college, people have been asking me what I want to study or what I plan to pursue as a major. When I tell them that I am interested in the environment and medicine, they are always perplexed. They ask me how I am interested in two topics that have no relationship. They ask me which one is my real passion. The reality is that the environment and medicine are related in both devastating and inspiring ways.

If we continue to pollute the planet, we will feel the negative effects in our lungs and in every system in our bodies. However, if we make the commitment to pursue clean energy technologies and care for our planet, we will feel the positive health effects for generations to come. When people tell me the environment and medicine are unrelated, I know that could not be further from the truth. I am interested in the environment and medicine because I want to help educate people about their interconnection.
Currently, I am an undergraduate sophomore at Duke University, studying environmental science and policy, but I am from Reno, Nevada near the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Lake Tahoe. In this awe-inspiring landscape, it is just as mesmerizing to watch the snow blanket the mountain ranges as it is to stare out at the various shades of the shifting waves. Growing up in this setting, I realized what we could lose from pollution.

About a month ago, I was searching online for environmentally related internships in North Carolina. At the time, I had no idea what I was looking for specifically; I just knew that I was passionate about climate issues and wanted to get involved. As I was searching, I found the website for Clean Air Carolina. I was fascinated to learn about Clean Air Carolina’s Medical Advocates for Healthy Air (MAHA) program. MAHA combined my two passions in a way that I had not seen in other professional areas. Immediately, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. When I learned that Clean Air Carolina was giving a presentation at Duke, I made it a priority to attend to find out more. During the meeting, I met Rachel, the manager of MAHA, and from there we started to plan out an internship for the school year.

Through my internship, I hope to learn more about the sources of air pollution in North Carolina and their health effects. One of the best ways to create policies that will reduce pollution is to understand how it impacts health. I plan to help develop videos that discuss the health impacts of air pollution and demonstrate how medical residents can address these issues with their patients. I am excited to create advocacy training videos that guide medical professionals on ways to promote clean air policies in their areas. This direct intersection of medicine and environmental advocacy is a concept I hope to incorporate into my future education and career.  

I also plan to help organize the NC BREATHE Conference, an event that connects air quality research to action on public health. So far, I have contributed to selecting the theme for the conference, and I hope to help advertise opportunities for students to present their research at the event.

I will also help with more recurring tasks such as website management and e-bulletin summaries, including summarizing research articles on the links between air pollution and human health so that MAHA members can read about these important studies in their monthly e-bulletins. In an organization like MAHA, it is imperative to keep people connected and informed through websites and other forms of communication.

MAHA inspires me because it exemplifies how the environment and medicine are intertwined. I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by the beauty of nature, but I also know that environments throughout the world are deteriorating. This deterioration will affect human health in ways we have yet to fully understand. I care about clean air because I care about human health.