By now, we've all heard about swine flu: an influenza that passes easily between the pig population and humans and was believed to be especially virulent and potentially deadly. We saw as visitors arrived from international ports of call into our country wearing surgical masks as an effort to keep them from acquiring for themselves or passing the virus to others. The government warned us about the symptoms and how to avoid this strain of influenza by avoiding crowds, learning to cough into our sleeves and wearing masks.
Where I live in Southern California, many people are concerned about pollution and particulate matter in the air during major fires. During severe wildfires, many people protect their lungs by wearing such masks to keep out soot, ashes, and other minute bits of debris. I guess that's appropriate because Los Angeles remains at or near the top of the lists of the most polluted cities in the United States.
But sad to report, these masks are also very useful outside of times when we are concerned about a global pandemic or being downwind of a large fire.
Particulates are visible air pollutants consisting of particles appearing in smoke or mist. These particles come in "almost any shape or size, and can be solid particles or liquid droplets. We divide particles into two major groups," according to www.AirInfoNow.com. The big particles are between 2.5 and 10 micrometers (from about 25 to 100 times thinner than a human hair). The small particles are smaller than 2.5 micrometers (100 times thinner than a human hair). These particles can be dust, pollen, soot, smoke, liquid droplets, or a wide variety of other compositions. And they can harm our health, particularly the smallest ones that work their way deep into our lungs.
The Environmental Protection Agency warns: "Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including: increased respiratory symptoms, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, development of chronic bronchitis, premature death in people with heart or lung disease, and more.
It's hard to think that our air is so bad that we can't breathe it freely and healthfully, but when you see those surgical masks on people coming and going trying to avert swine flu, consider whether you may want to wear one until we can completely Greenify, or at least remove the grey from our air.