Smog in major American cities before the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 is now the stuff of legend. In Los Angeles, not only were the mountains a blur shrouded in fog, people actually wore gas masks to cope with the out-of-control pollution. But now we have strict legislation and government regulation, so everything is fixed, right? Sadly, not.
According to Science Daily, the term “smog” is a combination of the words “smoke” and “fog,” used to refer generally to air pollution. Originally, smog described the mixture of smoke and sulfur dioxide caused by burning coal. With advances in technology, smog now refers to the toxic combination of ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide, which are found in industrial pollution, vehicle emissions, and incineration. By whatever name, it is a toxic mixture that harms everyone, especially children and senior citizens. It’s also particularly dangerous for people with lung infirmities such as asthma and COPD.
If you want to monitor smog levels, follow the EPA’s Air Quality Index which measures average ozone concentrations in the air over an eight-hour period. If the ozone rate is too high, the EPA will announce that the air is “unhealthy for sensitive groups” or, at a more elevated level, that the air is simply “unhealthy.” If you live in a big city or near a factory, smog is a danger you should be aware of. In addition, smog can be worse in the winter and in low lying areas surrounded by hills where the pollution gets trapped in the valley. Places like New Delhi and Mexico City are famous for terrible air quality, but if you live in places like New York City, Los Angeles, or Houston, you should also take steps to protect yourself.
It’s important to be aware of smog because it poses a significant hazard to human health. Some of the effects are seemingly minor, such as eye and nose irritation. But while you may be experiencing an itchy nose, the smog is actually drying out the protective membranes in your nose and throat, making it more difficult for your body to fight off illness. Exposure to smog can eventually reduce lung capacity, leading to shortness of breath, pain when breathing deeply, and coughing.
But don’t worry, there are many things you can do to keep yourself safe. For instance, avoid spending time outdoors and engaging in strenuous exercise when the ozone levels are high. Getting an air purifier will clean most of the pollutants out of your air and getting a portable air purifier will allow you to continue breathing clean air wherever you go. Putting plants in your home can also help reduce the harmful particulates in your air and help freshen the air. If you want more personalized protection, consider using an air quality tracking app like Air Bubbles that will monitor your immediate area and let you know if the air quality gets bad.
Smog is all around us in cities and industrial areas, but by taking some of these precautions we can reduce our exposure and continue to stay healthy.