by Will King, Gasp Summer Research Fellow

As we head outdoors to enjoy the sunny days and vibrant colors of spring, the quality of the air we breathe may be the last thing on our minds. May is Clean Air Month, a time devoted to bringing increased awareness to eliminating air pollution and cleaning up the invisible substance that gives us life. Spring can also be a time when many allergy, asthma, and respiratory disease sufferers must retreat indoors to prevent exacerbations of their illness.

Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors — including children, seniors, and  pregnant women, groups that are among the most susceptible to the lasting effects of particle pollution, or PM for short. PM is actually a mixture of microscopic solid and liquid particles and it can include substances like heavy metals that are the product of industrial processes (like steelmaking and coke manufacturing), coal-fired power plants, and vehicle emissions.

When we breathe in these tiny foreign particles, several things happen inside our bodies. If the particles are small enough, they may pass directly into the bloodstream along with fresh oxygen. These heavy metal particles like lead, titanium, and chromium are all dangerous in large doses to our body, causing or worsening heart problems, leading to dementia, or causing several types of cancer.

If the PM particles are too big to be carried directly to the bloodstream, they sit in the lungs and get trapped by our bronchioles, which look like branches of a tree. In the short-term they can cause irritation and breathing difficulty, while long-term exposure is associated with lung and cardiovascular diseases.

If you or someone you know has asthma, emphysema, or COPD, inhaling these particles may trigger respiratory distress, which if not treated, can be deadly. Expectant mothers can be especially at risk, and studies have shown that preterm birth is directly linked to air pollution exposure in the second trimester.

I joined Gasp this Spring as a research fellow, which means I get to investigate first-hand how polluted and toxic the central Alabama air we breathe is. I also joined Gasp so I could advocate for you and stress the importance of cleaner air to our elected officials. With our team at Gasp, we are working to put an end to air pollution in Birmingham, and I am so proud to be a part of it.

This is why I Gasp, and so should you! Join Gasp today to help our efforts in putting a stop to air pollution and cleaning up the air we treasure!

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