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Local Pollution Demands Behavior Shift

Photograph by Max Barmack

The Bay Area ranked tenth in the nation for particulate pollution and thirteenth for ozone pollution in 2018, according to a new report released by the American Lung Association (ALA). To put that in perspective, the Dallas, Chicago, and Baltimore metropolitan areas all ranked lower on both lists.

And the Bay Area wasn’t the only California region doing poorly: of the top particulate polluting cities seven of the top ten were in California. This may come as a surprise, considering the fact that California is often seen as the leader in green energy and conservation, but we still fall victim to air pollution.

In recent years, climate change has contributed to more unpredictable seasons, which can be seen by our record-breaking rainfall last year and severe drought in years prior. This has led to severe wildfires across the state which ultimately contributed to overall particulate pollution. The hotter weather also leads to greater ozone production, because the heat accelerates the reactions ozone needs to form.

The high levels of pollution in the Bay Area put nearly nine million people  at risk, 1.8 million of which are under 18 years old. This puts us, the students of Berkeley High, among the groups at risk.

Particulate matter has a major impact on an individual’s health and is caused by car engines, and smoke from wildfires and fireplaces. It can lead to increased risk of heart disease, asthma, and can stunt the growth of young people’s lungs.

So how can you minimize the impact this pollution has on you?

The first step comes with being aware of pollution levels where you live. When you’re conscious of particularly high-risk days, you can adjust your activities accordingly. For example, you can limit your exercise outdoors. The ALA recommends walking in large indoor areas like a shopping mall or running on a treadmill.

Of course beyond protecting yourself, there are also steps you can take to minimize the pollution in the first place.

Reduce your household’s energy output — producing electricity leads to pollution — but also convert all your tools from gas to electric powered. The ALA also suggests you don’t burn wood or trash. Make an effort to use public transit and when you have to drive, try to carpool.

This report may paint a bleak picture of the Bay Area, but to our credit, we have had a steady trend toward improvements since the early 2000s in all categories.

Since 2000, we have had a 70% drop in high ozone days — when ozone reaches unhealthy levels — and an 80% drop in peak particle pollution days since 2004. Our state as a whole has also led the opposition against Trump’s  EPA and the agency’s administrator: Scott Pruitt. Even as he pushes to lower emission standards, California has kept the more intensive Obama-era regulations in place.

Despite our daunting rankings amongst other states and regions we must continue to fight against our daunting future of  pollution and climate change.