The trail of destruction left in pollution’s wake

Pollution: What’s it good for?!

Some might think I’m just blowing smoke or I’m full of it or hot air. Me?!

Well, I’ve got news! Pollution is a serious matter. Every year in the world, air pollution – just one kind – claims 7-8 million lives. That’s not nothing!

The World Health Organization, meanwhile, in an Apr. 4, 2022 news statement, summoned, “… the evidence base for the damage air pollution does to the human body has been growing rapidly and points to significant harm caused by even low levels of many air pollutants.

“Particulate matter, especially PM2.5, is capable of penetrating deep into the lungs and entering the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular, cerebrovascular (stroke) and respiratory impacts. There is emerging evidence that particulate matter impacts other organs and causes other diseases as well.

“NO2 [nitrogen dioxide] is associated with respiratory diseases, particularly asthma, leading to respiratory symptoms (such as coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing), hospital admissions and visits to emergency rooms[.]”

This is serious business.

But, based on the way in which we humans seem generally unmoved by air pollution’s presence and impact, one might be inclined to see things differently.

For example, there is example after example of the impact air pollution has on communities. This summer we learned about or experienced firsthand the fallout from the wildfires in Canada and how smoke caused by those blazes had in many cases traveled hundreds of miles and left major mid-west, and northern east-coast regions enveloped in woodsmoke – these areas were some of the hardest hit. The overarching message to all those people affected: If you don’t have to be outside, stay indoors or sentiments along these lines.

Once the smoke disappears, people seem fast to forget.

For several years in a row – before the American west in the higher elevations this past winter saw record-falling snows – wildfires here seemed routine. The conflagrations were devastating, particularly the one in Paradise, California that claimed a total of 85 lives.

Based on tragic results like that, you might think those who were affected but survived, would be disinclined to rebuild – or want to rebuild – homes inside what had clearly been the fire zone. Many chose to and did rebuild on the very tracts of land where their all-but-destroyed houses previously stood.

One, which was featured on a home-improvement show (the name of which shall remain anonymous), not only was rebuilt in the same exact spot, but even included in it a brand-spanking new wood-stove. Did the owner(s) not understand that it was burning wood (trees in this case) that resulted in their earlier house being burned to the ground. Did they also not remember the thick, penetrating, unhealthy smoke that that fire produced?!

Which reminds me of two television shows (one a series, the other a documentary) that talked a good “take-good-care-of-the-environment” talk but were short on the “protect-the-total-environment” walk.

The documentary had to do with plastic bottles and how important it was not to discard these willy-nilly. If I’m not mistaken, a scene in the production showed the sculpture of a water fountain made out of plastic water bottles, this while the second show – presented in a vignette-type format – showcased the people making the effort and taking the initiative all across America who are making their own lives (and in many instances making the communities in which they live) much more earth-friendly, eco-conscious and sustainable, the show’s narrator who also appears on screen in the spaces before and between each vignette and at the very end, offering comment. In both of the presentations that I watched fireplaces with roaring fires featured prominently. Think fireside chat. This just defies logic and borders on the absurd. Counterintuitive comes to mind if I’m to look at this in euphemistic terms. That is putting matters nicely.

Then there’s the changed, disrupted climate and its air-pollution connection. When you think about it, how many people give more than a even a passing thought to that aspect? The operative term here, “think about it”. That might be exactly the point. I don’t believe enough people are.

Getting back to that 7-8 million lost lives per year attributed to polluted air. Talk to each of them prior to their passings or to family members and friends subsequent to and what you’ll no doubt hear coming through in their voices is compassion, caring and concern. It shouldn’t take a circumstance such as this, sickness or surfaced breathing problems to wake folks up to the dangers to life that air pollution poses. But, often, that’s it exactly.

It’s called air pollution for a reason.

Last updated on July 23, 2023 at 9:56 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

⁃ Alan Kandel

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Corresponding, connected home-page-featured image: U.S. National Institutes of Health: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute