Having a Safe Vacation in the Midst of Air Pollution

By Sarah Bae

My mom works full-time, and has done so for decades. Although she’s nearing 60, and has various health issues stemming from the stress of her work, because I have an 11 year old sister, she says she won’t be retiring anytime soon. Our family has always lived in big cities, and on vacations we go to places like Washington D.C. or New York City – always cities. My mom deserves a relaxing vacation, as does every mom, so it is important to be aware that women are susceptible to multiple environmental health impacts. Be prepared during trips. A big one, strongly associated with congested urban areas like cities, is air pollution.

Air pollutants can come from fine particles, like vehicle exhaust and soot, gases such as ozone and carbon monoxide, smoke from tobacco and stoves, as well as fumes released from the burning of coal, oil, kerosene, everyday household cleaning products and paints. Fine particles, and ozone in particular, are considered the most harmful pollutants.

For older women who may already have health problems, like my mother, exposure to air pollution can be particularly harmful. Air pollution can cause sudden variations or an increase in heart rate for those with cardiovascular problems, which could be a catalyst for conditions leading to a heart attack. For those with a lung disease, air pollution can lead to lung inflammation, difficulty breathing, and aggravation of asthma. Additionally, those with diabetes may also find that their risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke, and other heart problems increases.

To avoid or minimize exposure to air pollution, check the Air Quality Index (AQI) daily. The AQI reports on how clean the air is and whether it can affect your health. It recommends to reduce outdoor activity on bad air quality days. More information about the AQI is available. Information about daily air quality can also be obtained through newspaper, television, and radio weather reports. However, staying indoors doesn’t guarantee complete safety from air pollution as fine particles can enter buildings through open windows or doors, and tobacco smoke as well as fumes from cleaning products can concentrate in indoor areas with inadequate ventilation.

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About the author: Sarah Bae is a summer intern for the Office of Public Engagement. She is a rising senior at UC Berkeley majoring in Society and Environment.

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