What can you do to decrease the health risks of air pollution?

  • Posted: Monday, January 23, 2012 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Thursday, July 19, 2012 12:22 a.m.

What can you
do to decrease the health risks of air pollution?
By Kathy Chaffin
Center for the Environment
SALISBURY — After the presentation on the air monitoring study at the Center for the Environment facility Thursday evening, panelists shared ideas on what residents of the seven counties in the study can do to decrease health risks caused by high ozone levels and help improve regional air quality.
Dr. Chris Magryta: Eat healthy to combat the harmful effects of pollutants.
Dr. Chris Magryta of Salisbury Pediatrics noted that people need to eat healthier foods to detoxify their bodies, which removes pollutants. There are supplements and medicines that people can take to help with this, he said, “but they’re not nearly as effective as eating things that are healthy and will help our bodies through this.”
“The Center has done a great job of showing us in different presentations over the last five years about what other sources and problems we have,” he said. “And remember, [the problems] are still going to be here for a while, so do what you can to fight them.”
Robert Van Geons of RowanWORKS: Take steps daily to live sustainably.
Robert Van Geons of RowanWORKS, the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission, described the effort to improve air quality as “a journey of many steps.”
“If we each did one thing to be more energy efficient this week,” he said, “if we had one conversation with someone about these issues each week, if you voted with your pocketbook one time to support green technology or a better alternative ....”
Not everyone can afford Amory Lovins’ dream house, he said, referring to the co-founder of Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado – who has spoken at the Center – but people can take small steps toward making their homes more sustainable.
“If we each did something to change one of the behaviors that’s making us unhealthy, or the community around us unhealthy,” Van Geons added, “if we each did one of those things a week, one step ... how much could we accomplish even in just a year’s time, let alone over the next couple of decades?
“And I’d just like to leave you with that so we can start down the path. We need to do it together.”
Dakeita Vanderburg-Johnson of Healthy Cabarrus: Help others become change agents.
Dakeita Vanderburg-Johnson of Healthy Cabarrus compared teaching people to eat healthier foods and working to improve air quality to educating a child. “The child will try something and maybe even succeed one time,” she said, “and then the next time, the child is not successful.”
Using herself as an example, Vanderburg-Johnson said she has been speaking to organizations about the importance of not idling their vehicles for the past year in her role as chair of the Cabarrus Sustainability Council.
“And I pull up in my driveway and I’m on my cell phone,” she said. “I’m sitting there and I’m finishing my conversation and who drives up? My husband, who already says I’m a tree hugger, and he busts me because I’m sitting there idling.
“But you know what? I think about it now, and when I pull into the driveway on the cell phone, I turn the car off. So it’s just about education, I think particularly when it comes to air quality.”
Vanderburg-Johnson said she believes people want to do the right thing. “It’s just a matter of really explaining to them that one person can impart change,” she said. “It only takes one person.”
Rebecca Yarbrough of the Centralina Council of Governments: Committed citizens can change the world.
Rebecca Yarbrough of the Centralina Council of Governments quoted the late Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist, who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
“It’s just like turning the water off when you’re brushing your teeth,” she said, “if you turn your engine off when you’re sitting in the car line waiting for your child in the afternoons or if you decide that you are going to walk a block or so down the street instead of driving and sitting in the drive-through to get your Wendy’s salad or whatever.”
Yarbrough said those are examples of the kinds of actions everyone can take to help improve air quality. “You know, we are so wired to do certain things certain ways,” she said, “that if we can educate our friends, and I love what you all said, if you just start to interrupt that wiring at certain key points and be very intentional about it, pretty soon those habits will change.
“It only takes three days to change a habit.”
Dr. Cindy DeForest Hauser of Davidson College: Ask questions and seek solutions.
Dr. Cindy DeForest Hauser, the associate professor at Davidson College who presented the results of the summer air monitoring study, shared what she tells her students as they walk out of the door at the end of each semester: “The main thing is I want them to ask lots and lots of questions of everybody ... of everything, regardless of what the topic is,” she said, “and environmental topics are critical in that if you stop asking questions and you’re not getting answers, then you’re not learning anything.”
In teaching environmental chemistry, Hauser said she ends up sharing a lot of negative information about what is happening in the world with her students. “So the other thing I tell them ... is to always be looking for solutions.”
Hauser said she leaves students with those words “because if they’re not going to do that, then we certainly don’t have what we’re going to need to keep going.”

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