Most people associate the sky with the color blue. However, growing up in Southern California, I never thought of the sky as blue. I found it strange that pictures and movies portrayed the sky so vibrantly. I thought that the sky was supposed to be the hazy, murky combination of yellow, gray and blue that I always saw when I looked up.
On our family’s weekend commutes into the city, I would look out and see cars, trucks and buses, backed up for miles and miles on the freeway. I came to accept the smell of what I now know is diesel exhaust – exhaust emitted from diesel engines, like the ones in big trucks and buses – as commonplace.
What I didn’t know then was that there are serious potential health issues associated with breathing in diesel fumes. Diesel fumes, especially particulate matter and other air pollution can cause both short term and long term health effects, such as irritation to the throat and lungs, aggravated asthma symptoms, heart disease, heart attacks and cancer.
Prior to starting my internship with the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) my freshman year of college, I knew nothing about air pollution and the immense risks it had for our health and the environment. I never realized how greatly it impacted people living within the South Coast Basin.
The first few meetings I attended during my internship at SCAQMD truly opened my eyes to the hardships that families face because of poor air quality, especially those living in environmental justice communities. I had no personal experiences with asthma or other air pollution-related illnesses, but I heard continuously about babies who had to wear masks to breathe, about children who had to sit on the sidelines and watch while others played games and about people who were suffering.
I heard hundreds of stories throughout the course of my internship, and all of them touched my heart. In the end, the messages that we were hearing were the same: they wanted things to get better. They didn’t want the ones they loved to be sick. They wanted hope for the future. They wanted clean air for themselves, for their communities and for future generations.
I’ve learned that protecting the air we breathe isn’t easy, and it definitely isn’t cheap. Considering how many people are affected by this issue, we need to make air quality a priority. We need to make sure that the federal and state governments make it a priority so that clean air can become a reality for you and me.
In an average lifespan, a person will take almost 700 million breaths. It’s up to us to make sure that each one counts.
I knew that after all I’d heard and learned, I couldn’t just walk away. Three years after my internship, I returned to SCAQMD in 2016. I came back to SCAQMD to work as a full-time employee in the Legislative, Public Affairs, and Media Department. We all must continue the fight for clean air in our communities.