Not too long ago, I talked about the positive aspects of living in the city and how New Yorkers are living longer as a result. That still holds true. The life expectancy in New York City is still higher than in the rest of the country, and the urban tendency to walk rather than ride is helping out health. However, there are other aspects of city life hurting rather than helping its citizens. One of those is air pollution.
Every year, the United States releases 3 million tons of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. These chemicals infest our air, hurting crops, plants and animals, causing haze and acid rain, and in turn polluting our waters. In short, they wreak havoc on the environment, much as they wreak havoc on our health. Air pollution is not simply the cause of itchy eyes and burning noses; it is the cause of 3 million worldwide deaths, annually. It is a key contributor to birth defects, immune system defects and cancer. Everyone breathes it in, and everyone is affected by it. However, those in urban areas feel its effects the most.
Recent studies focused on the correlation between various health problems and urban air. What they found was all the same. The more urban air pollutants you breathe in, the worse off you are. Children, for example, predisposed to asthma are nine times more likely to develop the ailment if they live within 75 meters of a main road. Women exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide during the first and final weeks of their pregnancy are 10 to 25 percent more likely to give birth prematurely. And young, healthy adults experience increased occurrences of inflammation, blood clotting and oxidative stress when the level of air pollutants increases, putting them at a higher risk for heart disease. And those are examinations of only three groups in urban settings. Nearly half of our world lives in a city. Imagine the findings if we examined every subset for every illness. It would be, undoubtedly, terrifying.
Now, the question is, why am I telling you this. I am not attempting to force you out of the city, nor am I encouraging you to start wearing air masks so as to avoid taking polluted breaths. I am trying to make you aware, aware of what you are doing every time you opt to drive three blocks rather than walk or neglect to recycle, adding to production emissions. I am telling you that you are not just hurting the environment; you are hurting yourself and those around you. There are steps that you can take to reduce air pollution. Take them. If you don’t know what they are, the Environmental Protection Agency has suggestions. So read them, and then take them. You breathe in more than 3,000 gallons of air every day; help make the next gallon a little cleaner.