Have you ever heard of sick building syndrome? It’s an illness that expresses how our environmental health affects us. There are a lot of symptoms. But it’s characterized by difficulty breathing and respiratory issues, dry, itchy rashes. Brain fog. Headaches and dizziness. Fever or chills. The list goes on.
Sick building syndrome occurs when the building leaks toxins into a person’s space. It makes them physically ill. And it can be caused by a lot of different symptoms. There’s the obvious like asbestos or mold, dust or cigarette smoke in the air, or heavy toxins. But there are other culprits at play here too. Low lighting, loud noises or even low work morale can trigger sick building syndrome.
Sick building syndrome is one example of how our environment affects our health. Thankfully, it’s a small scale problem. To get rid of the symptoms, change environments.
But let’s look at how some of these symptoms of sick building syndrome, can transfer into a sick planet syndrome. We explain what you can do to stay safe, and, hopefully, what we can do to make our planet healthy again.
Sickness in the Air
Look, we don’t need to tell you the air is being polluted.
But we will anyway. Predominantly, the pollution in our air comes from burning fossil fuels like coal and oil. This contributes to greenhouse gases and climate change, but it exacerbates it too.
And it’s not just the smog that’s making you sick. Since things are warmer and moister, mold grows more prevalently. On top of that, allergy season is lasting longer too.
The NRDC writes, “The tiniest airborne particles in soot—whether they’re in the form of gas or solids—are especially dangerous because they can penetrate the lungs and bloodstream and worsen bronchitis, lead to heart attacks, and even hasten death.”
So yes, especially if you live in a city or near a factory, the air you’re breathing is killing you.
How to Stay Healthy
Download an app like Plume and track the air pollution where you leave. Avoid exercising if the levels are high. Shower after you’ve been in the city to remove particles from your clothing.
Since the pollution in the air thins out the ozone layer, it’s important to wear sunscreen too. This way you protect your skin from sun damage and skin cancer.
Sickness in the Soil
In 1962, Rachel Carson published a book called Silent Spring. It documented how widespread pesticide use was wiping out fish, birds, and wildlife. On top of that, it was making people very sick and causing birth defects.
Now over 50 years later, we’re still failing to heed the call to protect our environment. We constantly spray our produce with pesticides. You can wash some of them off, but many become part of the produce itself.
Many of the pesticides we use linger in the soil. Some have half-lives of 4 to 5 years, so even after a decade, 25% of the original dose is still in the soil. And most likely, an area received more than one dose.
Some fungicides, like copper fungicides, will last in the soil forever. But you can still buy it online for less than $100. DDT, a pesticide for which Silent Spring became advocated against, has a half-life of 2 to 15 years. On top of that, it’s very highly persistent in the environment.
Modern-day foragers are encouraged to know the history of the land they forage from. Toxins that leaked into the soil decades ago are still present – and poisonous – in the plants that grow there. Avoid old houses, where lead pain could have seeped into the soil. Avoid railroads and golf courses where pesticides are often used.
Thankfully, we’ve seen more regulations when it comes to pesticide use. But the actions that occurred over seventy years ago are still a massive problem. And we’re still adding to the damage.
How to Stay Healthy
The best way to protect yourself from chemicals ad pesticides in the soil is to pay attention to what you eat. Shopping organic can help. But organic means that the grower can’t use synthetic pesticides. They can still use organic pesticides, but that doesn’t mean they’re safer. Some organic pesticides can be very harmful to humans.
The best way to know what’s in your food is to have a real relationship with your local growers at the farmer’s market. Ask them about the pesticides they use and do your research on the specific brands.
Even better? Grow your own produce. That way you know exactly what’s in your food.
Sickness in the Water
In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire. This, thankfully, spurred an environmental movement to clean up our waterways. But it wasn’t the first time this particular river caught fire. It was the 13th time.
Since then, we’ve added programs like the Clean Water Act. It’s designed to keep pollutants out of our rivers and lakes. But it’s far from perfect. For starters, many of the chemicals that were dumped into our waters decades ago still linger.
The Clean Water Act allows certain amounts of toxins to be present in our water. But this legal amount in our water is still enough to be linked to over 100,000 cases of cancer.
And we don’t have enough water to go around as it is. When I as in fourth grade, my science teacher sat us down with a bucket of water. He dumped flour into the bucket to represent how much was locked up in ice caps. He added salt to explain how we couldn’t use most of the water because it was too salty. He added drops of chemicals to show how we were poisoning our own water supply. Out of all the water on earth, how much can we use? One drop. One single drop. (You can replicate a similar experiment with your kids here.)
How to Stay Healthy
Don’t buy plastic water bottles. While this may seem like a good way to get clean water, in the long run, it just exacerbates the issue. Instead, drink tap water, and make sure you have a good water filter. Get your water checked to see what chemicals are in it. Then make sure you have a filter than can clean out your specific toxins.
Know the water history in your area. Is there a factory or sewage drainage upstream? Then avoid swimming or fishing in unclean water.
A Healthy Environment Makes Us Healthy Too
All this is only made more tragic when we note how a healthy environment improves our own health. Just looking at nature can help us relax and feel better. Living close to trees is linked to a drop in asthma and other breathing-related issues. Spending time in nature is a rejuvenating, fulfilling getaway.
Walking in parks relieves stress and improves our mental well-being. Kids who live near a park have a lower BMI. It’s believed that if all kids had access to a park, 10% of kids scored overweight would fall to a healthy BMI level. ON top of that, 2% of obese children would drop to only overweight.
Being close to nature is good both for our physical and mental well-being.
What You Can Do About It
But what can you actually do to make a difference and help cure our environmental health crisis? Well, there are a few things.
As a consumer, pay attention to the products you use. Cut back on waste, and learn what happens to your products after you use them. For example, do you know what happens to lithium-ion batteries after you toss them out?
Also pay attention to the food you eat, where you get it, and how you get from place to place. Consuming meat and driving have major negative impacts on our environmental health.
Focus more on consuming less, and wasting less.
And then demand change from others. Talk to our policy leaders and ask that they demand green changes. Advocate for causes like bike-friendly cities.
Demand change from corporations too. Keep in mind only 100 companies produce 71% of carbon emissions. Boycott them and demand change. Focus on supporting companies that put our environmental health ahead of a buck.
We may be able to stabilize or even reverse the devastation to our planet, but we need to take action soon.
And finally, support organizations that are working to make a difference. The Nature Conservancy is one of the most respected non-profit environmental organizations. They focus on taking care of the environment. They strive to maintain a balance between preservation and people.
Environmental Health is Our Health Too
At HEALTHeBIKER, health is in the name. We can’t talk about health without discussing how environmental health affects our health too.
Thankfully, we can make our environment healthier, both close to happen, and on a major scale. But we don’t have much time.
So take action today. It’ll pay off for your health, for the health of the generations to come, and for the world as a whole.