Hazy Skies & Air Quality Warnings

Guest blog by Katie Young, Program Intern at OEC

In a small rural town in Southern Japan, over the loud speakers, city hall warned “stay indoors, if possible. Wear a facial mask.”

A thick haze covered the sky; we didn’t know where it came from. Locals told me possibly from Tokyo or China.

I was told the facial masks did no good: the haze was made of PM2.5, fine particulate matter, that was too small and passed right through the mask.

The haze disrupted the nice spring season.

Being born and raised in Hawaii, where there are blue skies and rainbows almost daily, seeing a yellowish hazy sky was horrifying. The Japanese rainy season offered temporary relief.

After a night of rain, I was elated to see the mountain skyline again. However, soon again the haze returned. A colleague, an American English teacher like me, confirmed the dangers of PM2.5. She ignored the warnings and went outside.  She had chest pain that lasted until the following day.

After living in Japan for three years, I returned to Hawaii and moved into an apartment with my husband near the freeway. It was filthy. Every surface was covered with black dust. We shrugged it off as the place just collecting dust from being vacant, so we cleaned it up and moved in. Yet soon enough, we found our feet, counters, toilet seat, and dressers covered with the black dust. The windows were kept open because we didn’t have an air conditioner.

We finally realized that the dust was car exhaust from the freeway blown in by Hawaii’s famous trade winds, which kept our apartment cool. We escaped PM2.5 in Japan, yet now we were breathing it and and being covered in car exhaust dust. It was a stark reminder that air pollution comes in many forms.

As a Portland newbie, I am drawn to the strong environmental activism scene here. Experiencing first-hand living with air pollution has motivated me to become more active with advocating for clean air policies.

I greatly appreciate Oregon’s clean air with the misty mornings that rejuvenate the lush greenery. But know we shouldn’t take Oregon’s beauty for granted.

Air pollution can’t be cleaned-up like collecting trash along the beach. Fighting air pollution requires a collective effort to address the consequences of our lifestyles.

The world is large, but we share the same sky, air, and ocean. Pushing for clean air legislation not only helps Oregon, it helps our neighbors, too. And being a good, responsible neighbor crosses all cultural boundaries.

In Oregon, lawmakers are considering a bill that would clean up our air by ditching dirty diesel engines.

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