Bad air: What being in the ‘thick of it’ means

Question: At what concentration in the air does pollution need to be or how extensive an air pollution problem must there be in order to move folk to demand a damaged-air fix?

I believe this to be the quintessential “air pollution” question. First: some relevant perspective.

It is not some unknown that air pollution exists. I see it. I breathe it in and I will go out on a limb by declaring that such has affected my health in some way. I’d be surprised if it hasn’t.

In an earlier post (“Clean air: Not a pressing-enough matter, apparently”), I referenced the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the fallout from that.

“In contrast to and unlike oil spills, the fallout (i.e., associated negative environmental impacts) of such being absolute (evident), with the breathing in of polluted air, on the other hand, there are many variables involved, such as what pollutant(s) is (are) breathed in, and in what context the inhalation of such is considered. For example, what is the pollutant amount inhaled and over what duration of time?”

I opened the above-mentioned post thus: “I can say with a high degree of confidence that when air pollution is viewed as a serious enough problem (taken here to mean that such is viewed by the vast majority of people to be a serious health threat and one of considerable concern) and/or the issue becomes important enough to enough people, then and only then will the quality of our air be brought to a state of healthy repair.”

And in remarking on the 2010 Gulf of Mexico catastrophe specifically, I contended: “Undoing the damage caused by the release of the equivalent of more than 2 million barrels of oil over the 87-day period the fugitive oil spilled, is no easy task – in fact, the cleanup effort is still going on and will probably continue for years to come. Regarding this catastrophe (and others like it), it just goes to show the lengths people are going to turn the tide and fix what went so horribly wrong.”

I just do not see this kind of relentless resolve to comprehensively fix what I deem to be an air pollution crisis.

Question: Could and should more be said about that?

Human_respiratory_system-NIH[1] (340x226)Unquestionably!

That there are those throughout the world who breathe air considered poor or in a worse state, so it isn’t like air pollution is some foreign or unknown or unheard of notion. People obviously know about such things.

Moreover, while people – those who by circumstance breathe poor or worse air and everyone else who by circumstance do not – have been made and are aware of such, it is, in my view, incumbent upon all to never, ever be satisfied with air pollution’s presence – regardless of extent.

Question: And, as it applies to work in this regard, could more be done to try to improve air condition?

Yes, unequivocally! Finding and implementing the most effective prescriptive mitigating approaches (many have been mentioned in posts on the Air Quality Matters blog) in terms of reducing or eliminating polluted air, regardless of type, in the end is what it all comes down to.

So, with that …

Question: Are enough people or are people in enough places or both paying close enough attention to the air’s deleterious condition?

On the topic, a whole lot has been and is being written and discussed. As it applies talking the talk does not necessarily equate to walking the walk. Or, it could be that in the grand scheme of things, environmentally and/or sustainably speaking – with topics ranging from air pollution and greenhouse gases to climate disruption and more – the air pollution message is simply getting drowned out, which is tantamount to it just being background noise, in other words.

One way I see it is that polluted air is not yet a big enough dot on most people’s radar. I, for one, believe air pollution along with its corresponding and consequential health impact, is an utmost urgent matter, not that climate change/global warming isn’t important; mind you. Furthermore, never, ever lost sight of should be the understanding that the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, at least in part, is on account of the burning of fossil fuels, which, by its very nature, is a pollution-producing process itself.

So, to respond, the answer might just be one that at this point is less than decisive.

Question: Where are the air pollution “hot spots” or trouble areas?

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17[1]By quantity, in the eastern hemisphere compared to that in the west, air is unhealthier by a factor of almost 2 to 1: of all world premature deaths attributable to polluted air an estimated 65 percent (nearly two thirds) are in Asia and India. Moreover, I think the problem is much, much more apparent in the northern hemisphere than in the one to the south.

Over the past two years of posting here, if you do not already know, much has been mentioned in regard to California’s San Joaquin Valley. As a resident living in what is in essence a “bowl,” an unfortunate consequence of such is the Valley’s propensity to trap pollutants and, believe me, I know of such all too well having, excuse the expression, more than my fill of air of the less-than-good kind and, in this regard, I am not alone, as many, many others – including visitors – I am sure feel likewise. It, therefore, goes without saying that times are numerous where Valley air is not up to snuff.

To go on, adding insult to injury, what the four million or so who call the Valley home, our air – or rather, what is in it – can frequently be seen. Such goes by the names “haze” and “smog” – if you ask me both infamous four-letter words.

Those who are regularly immersed in unhealthy air are, in a manner of speaking, right in the ‘thick’ of things.

Question: Why do people accept a life living with pollution?

I cannot provide a definitive answer but I would attribute this to circumstance and, I would add, I know of at least one family that left the Valley expressly for the purpose of fleeing the bad air that from what I understand led to health issues, the very reason behind the move.

From the above question-and-answer presentation, at the very least I hope I have sparked interest if not provoked additional thought and provided added perspective related to air-quality matters and raised awareness of such.

Images: U.S. National Institutes of Health: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (upper); NASA (lower)

– Alan Kandel

This post was last revised on Mar. 4, 2020 @ 7:07 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.

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