Anyone reading this knows about pollution, but have you ever wondered, “What is poor air quality specifically?.”
Air quality legislation was first introduced to the United States in 1970 under The Clean Air Act. These regulations helped establish a list of harmful pollutants, how harmful these pollutants were, and measures that companies and states would have to take to protect their populace.
Below is a list of some of the most common pollutants. If you live in the United States, your state’s monitoring system most likely reports on these same pollutants.
- Particulate Matter (PM 2.5/10)
- Carbon Monoxide (CO)
- Sulfur Dioxides (SOx)
- Ozone (O3)
- Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)
You can find out more about these at the EPA’s website.
The most common air pollutant in cities that is dangerous for the health of anything that breaths is Particulate Matter. Most weather channels will tell you about the air quality in your area using an AQI chart, shown below.
There’s a catch to what you’ll see on your local news. Cities have few, IF ANY, air monitoring stations. The air quality on the news won’t tell you about your situation, only the situation of their monitoring site. For example, houses directly beneath highways suffer much higher PM levels than neighborhoods far from traffic.
People are quick to blame large refineries, mines, or chemical plants for air pollution. While these types of facilities are to blame to some extent, they are actually one of the lower contributors, since The Clean Air Act was passed in 1970. The biggest contributors to poor air quality are by far transportation of all forms powered by fossil fuels. It’s hard to fix this problem without state’s forcing their citizens to buy electric cars, but if you feel like making a difference taking public transportation helps a great deal.
Hands down, pollution is a serious health concern for everyone, especially children and elderly. There are rarely areas so polluted to the point of being immediately life-threatening (there certainly can be; see Bhopal), but that isn’t the problem. If you huff-and-puff in just a few highly polluted days a year, it can lead to serious long-term health effects.
Very fine dust, coal, soot, etc. that are below 2.5 microns are real dangers. These particles that are thinner than your hair can end up deep inside your lungs. Your lungs have cilia, or tiny hairs, in your lungs to remove dust normally. However, dust this fine can avoid the cilia and enter the alveoli. This is a portal right into your bloodstream.
This specific type of pollution has been associated with a countless number of health problems including mortality and increased rate of cardiovascular disease.
Fear not! There are a few things you can do to combat this bane of human civilization.
You can set up particulate matter monitors in your house. Click here to buy one of my favorites. Dylos air quality monitors are excellent and easy to operate air quality monitors. They are rather pricey, but certainly worth the buy. Check out their website to learn more about particulate matter. There are cheaper options out there as well, but I’ve done studies with Dylos in college and they have my approval.
You can also protect yourself on days of poor air quality using a facemask respirator. You’ve probably already seen a few people wearing them, and they are really cheap. Just make sure you read the reviews to make sure it isn’t useless.
By far, the most important thing you can do is to take personal action. This means not burning wood as often if you can. Don’t idle your car. Drive an electric vehicle if you find one that you can buy. Call your state legislators and talk to them about solutions to improve your town’s air quality. Get mad if you have to. This is another long-term fight against disease and only the most adaptive survive. It’s never too late to act.
Should you even worry about it?
Of course, air quality isn’t a concern for everyone. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you indirectly.
Southeast Asia is one of the most heavily polluted areas on the planet, which makes sense with such dense populations and manufacturing. India, Pakistan, US, and China are some of the most polluted countries in the world. Business Insider has put together a good list that shows how high some of the average levels in these cities are.
You are probably counting your blessings if your city wasn’t on the list, but the fact is that if you live in a city you probably have to worry about air quality.
There are several cities in the US that have, and still are dealing with breathing air that is terrible for our health. For example, San Fransisco was a hotbed for smog in the 1980s. It still would be today if the Californian government hadn’t taken action to clean the emissions up in the state. Wichita Kansas, Salt Lake City Utah, and Jackson Mississippi are just a few examples of cities still breathing dangerously high levels of particulate matter. You can check your own city’s air quality on the local weather or online pretty easily. More than likely the air is poorer than you might’ve thought.