How to Protect Your Children From Wildfire Smoke
By Cecilia Sierra-Heredia
We're very careful about what our kids eat, but what about the air they breathe?
During recent summers, children living on the West Coast of Canada have been breathing some of the most polluted air on record. This is due to seasonal wildfires, which have burned through vast zones of North America and affected even larger areas with their smoke.
The polluted air generated by wildfires is responsible for hazy skies, charcoal-like smells and a noticeable spike in people reporting trouble breathing.
The British Columbia government has just declared a state of emergency, as hundreds of fires burn across the province. And the state of California has been under a wildfire "siege" this summer.
Even when smoggy skies and unpleasant odours dissipate fairly quickly, the respiratory problems sparked by these fires can linger and in some cases become a serious, chronic condition.
From asthma to low birth weight
Research makes it clear that air pollution contributes to asthma development and causes asthma attacks.
Asthma is a chronic condition where certain parts of the lungs are seriously irritated and swollen when they're exposed to certain air components like ozone or particulate matter. This inflammation makes children wheeze or cough and have a harder time breathing. An asthma attack can become so severe that the patient needs immediate medical attention to avoid dying of suffocation.
Every child, regardless of how healthy he or she might be, is at a higher risk from the dangers of smog. Children breathe more air relative to their size than adults, inhaling a larger amount of pollutants than their caregivers.
The quality of the air your children breath may be harming the development of their respiratory system: Their nose, throat and lungs. The air that children breathe now can cause problems for years to come.
More Likely to Catch Colds
Even if children are not suffering from any respiratory problems, it is important to avoid exposing them to smog.
Air pollution can make children more likely to catch colds or to make colds last longer. Because the body is busy dealing with the inhaled pollutants, the response to virus or bacteria is not as good as it should be.
Just as we avoid exposing kids to too much candy even though it won't rot their teeth or cause diabetes within hours, we must limit the amount of smog our children breathe.
Individuals have little control over wildfires. However, caregivers can do many things to reduce their child's exposure to smog.
Seven Actions You Can Take
1. Monitor the air pollution levels in your community with the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI). AQHI is accessible though news, social media or apps (for iOS and Android).
2. Stay indoors as much as possible and avoid exercising or any intense physical activity outdoors when AQHI indicates dangerous levels.
3. Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your house, or at least in the rooms where you spend most of your time. If you buy a portable one, you can place it in the living room throughout the day and then move it to your children's sleeping area at night.
4. If you cannot afford the purchase of a HEPA filter (or the subsequent increase in your power bill), try to spend time in indoor community spaces such as libraries, malls or community centers.
5. Avoid smoking inside your house. This is important every day, but it becomes especially relevant when smog levels are already off the charts.
6. If your child has been diagnosed with allergies or asthma, schedule a visit with their pediatrician before the wildfire season starts so that you can update their prescriptions and stock up on their medications.
7. Be observant of symptoms like wheezing, coughs or labored breathing, and any verbal complaints your child expresses. Take them to a walk-in clinic or an emergency department if necessary.
Current predictions are that we will experience wildfires more often, but the evidence indicates that limiting how much smog we breathe can prevent greater damage to our lungs—and a healthier and cleaner future for you and your children.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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