To celebrate a friend’s fortieth birthday, I spent this past weekend in the beautiful state of Montana. There, I split my time between taking in the champagne and taking in the view. The bubbly was good but the air was delicious. Even at the high altitudes, notorious for making breathing more difficult, it was a pleasure to fill my lungs. I grew up in Queens and now reside in New Jersey – pollution is as much a part of my life as chocolate. I have never had to go far to find a smokestack or a pile of trash. There, the Big Sky was interrupted only by snow-capped mountain peaks, and the landscape littered by wildflowers – and bear poop, but that kind of ruins the visual. The point is, it was clean in a way we don’t experience in urban or suburban America. Other than the aesthetics, does it really matter? This week, pollution and will it kill you?
1. Toxins in the air can come from natural sources or from man made sources. For example, radon from the ground, chemicals from factories and second-hand smoke. They can have short-term and long-term health effects.
2. Short-term health effects include irritation to the eyes, skin, nose and throat, headaches, nausea and cough. Pollution can increase your risk of developing upper and lower respiratory infections, including pneumonia and bronchitis. Some people, the young, the old, and those with underlying medical conditions, will feel the negative effects of an unclean environment more than others.
3. Long-term health issues include cancer, birth defects, serious respiratory illnesses and nervous system disorders.
4. What are the toxic substances you are most likely to encounter? There are over 180 substances in our environment known to be harmful to humans. Every time you fill your gas tank, you are exposed to benzene. Dry cleaning facilities release perchloroethylene and petroleum solvents. Car emissions contain hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. All of these chemicals and by-products have been proven to adversely affect health and are associated with an increase cancer risk. I don’t think I need to address cigarette smoke in 2011 but, in case you have been living under a rock, it is really bad for you.
5. What can you do to limit your exposure? Move to Montana. I looked for job opportunities in the wild west this morning. Since I can’t ski, ride a horse or shear a goat, I am out of luck. If you are like me and are stuck in an area that boasts poor air quality, there are just a few things you can do. Reduce your time outside on days with air quality alerts. Keep your windows closed when stuck in traffic. Purchase a HEPA air filter for your home. Stay away from smoke when you can. Limit your amount of cleaning or painting products that contain solvents, sealers and adhesives.
The biggest incentive to decreasing my contribution to pollution and to supporting clean-up laws and activities, is my children’s future. As I am in the fortieth birthday celebratory stage of my life – halftime if you will, my exposure to toxins has likely already influenced my health. The writing is already on my wall but, I will be certain to use environmental friendly products to clean it up.
For more information on pollution, it’s effects and what you can do to help, check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.
Tomorrow, cancer clusters.