Students want to bring cleaner air to MU

A group of students lay on the ground of Lowry Mall for five minutes to raise awareness about asthma.
Senior Melissa Vatterott lies "dead" for an Asthma awareness protest against coal companies Tuesday at Lowry Mall. More than 20 students participated in this coughing-induced mock death for which they sprawled across the ground motionless for five full minutes.

Boisterous coughs followed by senior Alena Pirogova and 18 other students falling to the ground erupted just before 12:20 p.m. Tuesday on Lowry Mall. Each student held a sign that listed the effects of coal on asthma in bold, black letters.

Pirogova and the 18 other students participated in a demonstration called a "die-in" for Asthma Awareness Day.

For Pirogova, this “die-in” had a special connection. When she lived in Lathrop her freshman year, Pirogova enjoyed being active and being outdoors. But as her time at MU continued, breathing got harder.

“I never had asthma before, no history of it in my family, and I’ve always been pretty active,” Pirogova said. “I had really bad allergies, shortness of breath and I thought to myself, ‘I need to check this out.’"

After going to the allergy clinic, Pirogova learned she had developed a mild case of asthma. Although she said she does not often like to say it was because of the coal plant, Pirogova said she believes the coal in her environment probably had a major impact.

“At the allergy clinic, they said it was caused by allergies and a change in my environment, and when I started thinking about it, the only change in my environment was living in the dorms,” Pirogova said. “(The doctor) kept telling me to think about what’s in my immediate environment. I thought he meant allergies, but he might have been hinting at the coal plant.”

This effect of coal on asthma is why senior Lauren Hystead and freshman Sarah Johnson said they started the “die-in.”

“We have a coal plant on campus that produces 84 percent of our power, and studies have shown coal usually has asthma surrounding it,” Johnson said. “This is something that is very near and dear to us, (and) it’s Asthma Awareness Day, so we thought it would be a perfect way to launch our new campaign to move Mizzou to more sustainable energy.”

The goal of campaigning for more sustainable energy came to Hystead and Johnson while they attended a college-age environmental conference called Power Shift three weeks ago in Washington, D.C., with 10 other MU students.

“The main goal of (Power Shift) was mostly just to train people how to campaign,” Hystead said. “Each morning we would have about four hours of training on how to send to message, tell our story, get people excited and be really strategic with whatever goal you have. So my goal is to get coal off the Mizzou campus.”

For Pirogova, who also attended Power Shift, the strategy for bringing cleaner air to Missouri has to start with student involvement.

“The mission of our generation is not just to look at this as a ‘hippie movement,’” Pirogova said. “I think we need to care about the environment. Not just in relation to global warming, but because we have a duty to respect the land and the environment.”

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