Breath of fresh air from girl, 15, who’s shaken up US pu­ri­fier in­dus­try

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - AMY LIT­TLE­FIELD

RIVER­SIDE, Cal­i­for nia: Among her many ac­com­plish­ments, Otana Jak­por, 15, has man­aged to break up the mo­not­o­nous at­mos­phere of airqual­ity hear­ings. It’s not easy.

Typ­i­cally, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists spout acronyms and per­cent­ages, while in­dus­try lob­by­ists pre­dict the econ­omy will col­lapse un­der new rules.

Then the African-Amer­i­can high school pupil steps for­ward in de­fence of clean air.

With her sis­ter, Jib­iana, 4, and her mother, Karen Jak­por, be­side her, Otana told an En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency hear­ing that ni­tro­gen diox­ide from cars con­trib­utes to par­ti­cle pol­lu­tion and asthma.

“I urge the EPA to set the best pos­si­ble stan­dards based on pub­lic health con­sid­er­a­tions, and not to suc­cumb to in­dus­try pres­sure to set weaker stan­dards. Re­mem­ber, the eco­nomic costs of asthma ex­ac­er­ba­tions are enor­mous.”

The au­di­ence buzzed with praise for Otana.

Since her first ap­pear­ance at a Cal­i­for­nia Air Re­sources Board meet­ing at the age of 13, Otana has aired her con­cerns reg­u­larly. She has won sci­ence fairs, re­ceived awards from the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel and the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ad­vance­ment of Coloured Peo- ple, and ear ned recog­ni­tion from mem­bers of Congress and for­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge Bush for her re­search show­ing how ozone-pro­duc­ing air pu­ri­fiers af­fect lung func­tion.

Even­tu­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tives from both the Amer­i­can Lung As­so­ci­a­tion and the South­ern Cal­i­for nia En­vi­ron­men­tal Health Sciences Cen­tre at the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia re­cruited Otana. She is now a vol­un­teer spokes­woman for the ALA and an in­tern at the Health Sciences Cen­tre.

It all be­gan with an ex­per­i­ment that Otana set up in her liv­ing room. Us­ing her mother’s breath­ing mon­i­tors and air pu­ri­fiers, and her friends as re­search sub­jects, Otana tested breath­ing func­tion be­fore and af­ter ex­po­sure to the ozone emit­ted by some air pu­ri­fiers.

Otana pre­sented her home­made ex­per­i­ment to the Cal­i­for nia Air Re­sources Board dur­ing a 2007 hear­ing. The board had al­ready en­dured dozens of speeches from man­u­fac­tur­ers who in­sisted there was no di­rect ev­i­dence that ozone from the pu­ri­fiers en­dan­gered health.

When Otana, then 13, stepped for­ward, the au­di­ence ex­pected an “ado­les­cent” pre­sen­ta­tion, said Dim­itri Stanich, a board spokesman.

But within min­utes, Otana had breezed through a Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tion of data di­rectly link­ing the ma­chines to de­creased lung func­tion.

She found it did not af­fect the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion. “How­ever, among the asth­mat­ics, there was a drop of 11 per­cent in the FEV1 over FEC ra­tio …”

Af­ter that meet­ing, Cal­i­for­nia be­came the first state in the coun­try to es­tab­lish re­stric­tions on ozone from house­hold air pu­ri­fiers.

Otana knows the suf­fer­ing that asthma can cause a fam­ily. Her mother, Karen, an ob­ste­tri­cian, strug­gles with se­vere chronic asthma.

“I was just breath­ing,” she said. “I was just try­ing to breathe.”

They had to move house so her mother was closer to a hospi­tal.

Otana was her care­taker. “I think that’s where a lot of her ma­tu­rity comes from,” her mother said. “She re­ally grew up that sum­mer.”

That ma­tu­rity has drawn at­ten­tion from a host of ad­mir­ers, in­clud­ing politi­cians, re­porters and for­mer teach­ers.

“I haven’t had a stu­dent like this, and I’ve been teach­ing for about 30 years now,” said Steve Kin­ney, a sev­enth-grade sci­ence teacher at Wood­crest Chris­tian Mid­dle School which Otana at­tends.

“For 15 years, she’s very hum­ble and dili­gent.”

The rib­bons and medals Otana has re­ceived fill a box that her mother keeps. Otana won’t let her mother dis­play them.

Otana seems gen­er­ally taken aback by all the at­ten­tion.

“It’s a lit­tle bit weird,” she said. “I’m do­ing what a lot of other peo­ple are do­ing; I just hap­pen to be younger.”

The teenager ap­pears be­mused by the bu­reau­cratic quib­bling among reg­u­la­tors, in­dus­try and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups over the best way to reg­u­late air qual­ity.

“I did not know un­til just a few years ago how reg­u­la­tions are set or that there even were reg­u­la­tions for the air qual­ity,” she said. “It’s just like a whole new di­men­sion of things that I didn’t know were hap­pen­ing be­fore, but they’re im­por­tant things.”

Al­though the gen­eral pub­lic doesn’t of­ten at­tend hear­ings to de­bate air pol­lu­tion reg­u­la­tions, Otana – al­ways the youngest to speak – shows up be­liev­ing that her work can make a dif­fer­ence.

“I like her bold­ness,” her mother said. “She’s young enough that she doesn’t have the same view that older peo­ple get that we can’t change things.” – LA Times-Wash­ing­ton Post

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