Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Something else to suck the life out of you in good time

Blog Series: Climate Change and your Health
something else to suck the life out of you in Good time
 by Karen Cooper

It was a bad day at work. You were late, missed the early bird parking, fed the meter, then worked until lunchtime before you realized it was your furlough day. That's ok, you're Zen. It's an unseasonably warm and hazy day. You walk out to the warmth and take deep cleansing breath. You cough... a lot. Sadly Zen's not enough when it's smoggy.

Climate change and smog

Climate change brings extremes in weather. Smog (or as the geeks call it: ground-level ozone)  formation is highly dependent on the weather. It's likely the more hot days we have due to climate change, the more smog we'll have. Heat and light react with pollutants (such as PM2.5) to form smog.  A huge part of the pollutants in smog come from cars. Smog isn't usually such a big problem on cool days.

The PM2.5 story
PM2.5 is fine "particulate matter" in smog that's also known as particle pollution. Cars and industrial processes generate a lot of this pollution. PM2.5 contains very small particles and liquid droplets measuring less than 2.5 micrometers (about 1/30th the diameter of a human hair). The smaller the particles are the more damaging they are to your health.  Overall it would be best if we could avoid breathing in particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller. These are the ones that can enter your lungs. This cocktail of acids, organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles can play havoc on your heart and lung health. Learn more about PM2.5.

Life-sucking smog study

The Harvard School of Public Health published a study that covered 545 counties across the U.S. that found that between 2000 and 2007, a drop in fine particulate matter (PM2.5) corresponded with an average rise in life expectancy of 0.35 of a year. That's about four months. You can get a lot done in four months.

What health effects might you face due to smog?

  • Premature death due to cardiovascular effects
  • Strokes
  • Asthma and smog: watch a video (1.5 min)
  • Coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath
  • Some studies suggest long-term PM2.5 exposure may be linked to cancer, infant mortality, and low birth weight.

Bad news then the good news... If you were to talk to a research geek at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about smog they would tell you that brows there are furrowing. That's because the feds are looking at the latest scientific   research surrounding the health of people who are exposed to what's considered low levels of smog. They've been diligently sifting through thousands of studies that keep coming to the same conclusion: smog's more harmful than previously thought.  The good news is that the feds have announced they may be tightening the health-based federal standard for ground-level ozone in 2013. Find out what they're doing.

Will you do at least one thing (see below) to reduce smog? Guaranteed to help your Zen.

  • Use air-friendly products: avoid aerosol sprays, oil-based paints and insect repellents.
  •  Decrease energy use: 
    •   Cool your home using fans instead of air conditioning units. 
    •  Turn off lights and appliances when not in use. 
    •  Maintain your vehicle so it gets the best possible fuel efficiency (properly inflate tires and get regular tune-ups).
  •  Leave your car at home and consider alternative transportation:
    •  Also, ask your employer if they have an incentive program for not driving to work.
    • Work in Northwest, Oregon (including Portland)? Take advantage of employer incentives for employees taking the bus or carpooling. See Employee Commute Options some employers must provide.
    • If you're an Oregon state employee, apply for the Smart Commuter Program that gives incentives to those who don't drive to work.


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