After a friend came back from vacation in India, he was out sick for weeks with fever, respiratory problems, and chest pain. Doctors couldn’t identify his disease. One night, while watching the news, he figured it out.
PM stands for particulate matter. PM 2.5 refers to particles floating in the air that have a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less. Particles consist of any number of substances like smoke, soot, chemicals, aerosols, and vapors. Countries like India and China have particularly high instances of PM 2.5 because of their heavy manufacturing industry. You can usually see particulate matter; it makes air look yellow and hazy.
Here in Southern California, winter brings fire season. Fire creates smoke: bad air. Californians have already experienced a year of the dirtiest air in decades, agitated by summer’s heat wave. In the fall, the Santa Ana winds blow in and everyone complains about allergies.
We don’t have allergies. We are breathing bad air.
Okay, some of us do have allergies. Allergies refer to your body’s immune system attacking a harmless agent, like dog dander, as if it were harmful. When your body attacks an agent that is harmful, like smoke, smog, or chemicals, you don’t have allergies. Your body is reacting to a hazard.
Many factors pollute our environment. Automobile exhaust creates pollution; trucks carrying goods are the biggest contributors. Chemical pesticides play a role. Some genetically modified plants and grasses produce pollen and “allergens” our immune systems don’t recognize. Any time you see factories belching smoke stacks, you breathe that air- visible or not. A report by NPR found that in LA, everyday household products, like soaps, paints and perfumes are causing nearly as much air pollution as cars and industries combined.
So you probably don’t just have “allergies”. Most likely, your runny nose and watery eyes are reactions to environmental factors that are actually bad for you. Visit an allergist to find out for sure.
You can do one of two things about this. You can take histamine blockers, use air purifiers, and wear masks. Or you can address the root source of your discomfort.
Oxygen is humans’ preferred breathing material. Photosynthesis is the only chemical reaction with an oxygen byproduct, and plants perform photosynthesis. So plants help. Phyotoplankton living on the ocean surface also produce photosynthesis. Human activity influencing ocean ecosystems threatens phytoplankton- and oxygen.
So plant some plants. Consider the source of the products you buy. Run all your errands at once to minimize driving. Buy local. Use natural household cleansers in your home. You can buy them in the same place you buy Chlorox, they just cost a few dollars more. Save manicures for special occasions.
This last call to action is a big one: try to avoid buying goods from countries who don’t have clean air regulations, like China or India. All Earthlings share the same air. Pollution from factories across the ocean stays in Earth’s atmosphere, which everybody breathes. And you know overseas factories are working to produce the things we buy over here in America.
In the end, cleaning up the air comes down to valuing health over money. Buy the green, locally- produced thing that’s slightly more expensive now to live a better life later. Your lungs (and eyes and nose and ears!) will thank you.