When you think of air pollution, what comes to mind? Smokestacks, am I right? The classic picture of columns of smoke pouring out of a factory will always be connected to air pollution, and rightly so. But if you’re trying to figure out how good (or bad) pollution is in your city or neighborhood, or if you’re looking into moving to a new area, is that picture all that you should be watching for? In the absence of smokestacks or visible smog, are you safe?
If only it were that simple. You may remember from previous posts that the most dangerous air pollution is that which contains particles 2.5 microns in size or smaller, small enough to lodge in the lungs and cause or contribute to a litany of health problems. Such particles are easily small enough to be in the air without being seen, though in high enough concentrations, they’ll show up as smog or a haze visible on a landscape.
So what should a person take note of to determine the air pollution levels in their neighborhood? You can, and should, check out a city using online tools like the one found here. But in general terms, there are certain factors to be aware when evaluating an area’s pollution probability. I ran across an article recently that discussed Bakersfield, California, and its challenges with pollution.
What I found interesting is that Bakersfield isn’t known for high concentrations of manufacturing facilities, yet has the dubious honor of being the most-polluted city in the American Lung Association’s 2016 State of the Air report. Why, then, so much bad air in Bakersfield? The article discusses a variety of factors:
- Oil. The area is surrounded by oil fields and refineries, both of which leave an odor and result in air pollution.
- Transportation. All that oil has to be transported, of course. Combine that truck traffic with the nearby and already-busy Interstate 5, and you have a recipe for air pollution problems.
- Warehousing and distribution centers. These facilities, while not normally producing pollutants themselves, attract truck and rail traffic, leading to more transportation-sourced pollution.
- Agriculture. Speaking of odors, surrounding dairies have had an impact on the air, too.
- Weather. Bakersfield and its environs is surrounded by mountain ranges, which trap air. The air becomes dirty because of the previous factors, but is not replaced by clean air that often. Air systems may hold in place up to six weeks, depending on the weather.
The last three items were especially interesting to me, because I hadn’t actively considered them as factors in polluted air before. But they highlight why it can be hard to evaluate a neighborhood’s pollution risk factors. And how the environment as a whole is involved in an area’s clean air, or lack thereof.
If you’re trying to determine the suitability of a new neighborhood or city for you and your family, look beyond the obvious. No one wants to live next door to a smoke-producing factory. But consider the proximity to traffic, and not just rush-hour traffic, but the shipping that’s nearby. Take note of weather patterns and nearness to agriculture, too. Keeping all of these factors in mind when evaluating your neighborhood, or choosing a new one, can help ensure that home is a healthy place.