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New Documentary Celebrates Clean Air Act, Highlights Communities Still Waiting for Clean Air Premiere at the D.C. Environmental Film Festival

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The Fight For Clean Air

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act this year, on June 18 the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital (DCEFF) will host the premiere of the new documentary “Unbreathable: The Fight for Healthy Air,” directed by the Executive Director of American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking Maggie Burnette Stogner. The film highlights the dramatic reductions in air pollution that the United States has achieved since Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, as well as the disparities in access to healthy air that persist in America.

“Our country has made significant progress in improving air quality since the Clean Air Act was enacted fifty years ago,” said Stogner. “However, a lot remains to be done. As we face significant rollbacks to environmental regulations, this documentary is a catalyst for action and solutions around air quality, pollution, and environmental justice.”

In addition to her role as the Executive Director of American University’s (AU) Center for Environmental Filmmaking, Stogner is a professor at AU’s School of Communication and an award-winning filmmaker. The documentary is produced by AU’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking in partnership with AU’s Center for Environmental Policy, the American Lung Association, and the Hanley Foundation.

“Unbreathable” takes a look at past and ongoing efforts to improve air quality in the United States and examines the challenges that remain for the many communities that have yet to benefit from clean air, including significant health issues resulting from breathing polluted air. Communities featured in the film include Reserve, Louisiana – often referred to as “Cancer Alley”—as well as Clairton, Pennsylvania, and Baltimore, Maryland.

Air pollution can cause asthma and heart attacks, stroke, harms to the reproductive system, in addition to many other health issues. At the same time, emerging research links air pollution to higher death rates from COVID-19.

“The Clean Air Act prevents hundreds of thousands of deaths each year,” said Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association. “We should not take this landmark public health law or the benefits it provides for so many for granted. However, as ‘Unbreathable’ reminds us, many communities are still waiting for the clean air that was promised.”

“The law must be fully implemented and enforced,” Wimmer continued. “Only with a robust Clean Air Act can the nation make progress needed to protect the nearly half of Americans still breathing unhealthy air. We know that this burden is not shared equally. Children, older adults, lower-income communities and many communities of color are among the most at risk from the health impacts of air pollution. Until we are all able to breathe clean air, the Clean Air Act still has work to do.”

The film also focuses on the fact that climate change is already degrading air quality – from wildfire smoke to spikes in ozone pollution due to hotter temperatures. The changing climate poses unprecedented challenges to cleaning up the air we breathe and protecting human health. 

This film premieres at a critical time. It is a call for elected officials, businesses, innovators, and communities to work together across the nation to ensure healthy air for all. “Clean air is not a political issue,” emphasized Stogner. “It is a human right.”

Informative and inspiring, the documentary aims to reach a wide range of audiences and will be distributed nationally. To learn more about the documentary, visit To watch the premiere and to participate in a live online discussion on June 18, 2020, please visit this site.