Recently, parts of our country were engulfed in the worst air quality readings in the world. Places like NYC had an AQI (Air Quality Index) which was in fact the worst in the world, beating out China and India. On a scale that goes up to 500, parts of the city were at 484. All of this because of a wildfire that continues to burn out of control as far away as Canada. Many parts of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, and Pennsylvania were impacted. Environmental pollution poses a threat across the globe and has now worsened due to global warming. The damage caused is not always evenly distributed. At times, marginalized communities and communities of color unfairly carry the fallout of this burden. This is known as environmental racism.
For years scientists have warned us about the impacts of global warming and climate change. As often seen in today’s society, issues such as this turn political and people become pawns. Climate change has now grown into a crisis that impacts everyone, yet undoubtedly it hurts the aforementioned groups the worst.
This point was demonstrated on the days with the highest AQI rates. During these times places of business were opened while people still had to report to work. Many commuters could not afford to stay home or sacrifice not getting paid. Being in a position without a healthy alternative to stay home exposes people both voluntarily and involuntarily.
This can be deemed as a direct result of racial and economic constructs in today’s society. Many officials were recommending staying indoors and turning on air purifiers, or switching air conditioners to circulate only indoor air. These suggestions do not factor in those who may not have had access to either device. It also did not factor in those who would be out in the elements risking additional exposure regardless of potential dangers based on the nature of their job.
High levels of unhealthy air or pollution can contribute to respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic pulmonary diseases. This can also further exacerbate preexisting conditions such as heart disease, and lead to severe issues such as stroke or different forms of cancer. Many of the same marginalized groups who had to report to work or be in these hazardous conditions are also those who are most impacted by these chronic diseases.
Bronx, New York particularly has some of the highest asthma rates in the country. In this borough, the link between environmental pollutants and public health become painfully clear. A confluence of pollution sources such as heavy truck traffic and proximity to industrial sites contribute to poor air quality. This reality coupled with inadequate access to healthcare, leave residents in the area, particularly children, extremely vulnerable to asthma and other respiratory conditions. This is a place that cannot afford to have AQI levels impact the area which is already in crisis.
The impact of wildfires has become increasingly dire and is no longer stagnant to just one part of the world as the recent Canadian wildfires have shown. These fires release vast amounts of particulates and gases that reduce air quality, causing acute and chronic health effects. The effects can be minimal such as eye irritation or irritation to the respiratory tract. They can also lead to more severe heart and lung diseases for the long term.
The fight against environmental pollution can be viewed as a social justice issue stemming from health inequities and existing structural racism within our healthcare systems. This environmental plight can be seen as a social justice issue that can be overcome by acknowledging and addressing the undue burden placed on marginalized communities, and communities of color. This is a fight that can be won by moving towards achieving health equity, and a cleaner, safer environment for all.
The best way to safeguard ourselves from an impending Armageddon is to ensure that we have access to quality healthcare. This can be found by visiting your local primary care physician or local city hospital. Those who suffer from chronic conditions should try to seek medical advice before any issues arise. These individuals should also focus on preventive measures that a healthcare professional can provide for them. Regular check ups can help monitor your conditions. Physical check-ups can determine if there are any links to pollution exposure which your physician can give you advice for based on your circumstances.
Educating ourselves on the harmful impact of pollution and our climate crisis is key. Additionally, understanding the impacts of environmental racism and how to combat it can influence the type of outcome you can have. There will be more wildfires that will continue to have a significant impact across the world. Knowing how this impacts your health and what you can do to protect yourself will go a long way in preserving your overall well-being.