Australia is increasingly facing problems with air pollution – problems that have detrimental effects for you and your family. In 2019, a Doctors for the Environment Australia report indicated that in NSW alone, there were six local areas that exceeded the fine particle annual standard. These included Liverpool, Chullora, Parramatta North and Muswellbrook.
In all these areas, it’s recommended that children, the elderly, and people with existing breathing issues should limit outdoor time. But this is just one data point in a persistent problem, and one temporary solution. It’s not just limited to Australia, either, with global cities facing similar challenges. In New York City, for example, air pollution causes over 2,000 premature deaths a year – a shocking statistic.
Day to day, the best way to avoid air pollution is to stay away from car traffic. Cars and trucks produce a significant amount of our local pollution, and they pump it out right at ground level. Bicyclists are ironically bearing the brunt of this pollution, sometimes breathing in half their "daily dose" of pollution during their commute. Car traffic and heavy breathing are a toxic combination. (The exercise still outweighs the pollution cost for the typical adult.)
The ideal solution, of course, is to ban cars and melt them down into free bicycles for all. But in the real world, your best bet is to physically avoid the pollution machines, like you would any type of monster prowling the streets and literally killing people.
Exercise before rush hour, reroute through backstreets, and (if you want to kick the problem down the road) use air conditioning, instead of opening your windows and letting in the smog.
Air pollution doesn't only affect those near cars, but those inside them. UK professor Stephen Holgate says air pollution is "nine to 12 times higher inside the car than outside," where fans often blow exhaust air right into the vehicle.
Common air filtration masks are pretty useless, says Beijing physician Dr. Richard Saint Cyr, unless you fully seal them against your face. (If breathing through your mask makes your glasses steam up, it's not sealed.) After testing, he recommends masks from 3M, Vogmask, Totobobo, and I Can Breathe. The 3M mask is $22 for a 10-pack.
Over the long term, air pollution is falling thanks to an overall push for better standards, but more needs to be done before we can all rest easy.
If you want to breathe cleaner air without hiding from cars, call your local government representative to say you want stronger anti-pollution regulations. You can also talk to your local government about anti-traffic measures like improved public transport and bike exchanges.
We can't rely on the public to abandon their cars in a system that prioritises cars so much. We all have to do this together.