There’s nothing Southern California weather, with its nearly 300 days of sunshine. But here’s one teensy-tiny drawback to the cloudless skies and general lack of atmospheric commotion: The clearer and calmer the weather, the more we Angelenos hear the freeway. And the more we think about air pollution.
Now, some people aren’t bothered by the sound of the freeway. I have a friend who claims to simply imagine that she lives closer to the beach and is hearing the distant sound of crashing waves. She says the constant flow of freeway traffic noise is easily tuned out.
Except I can’t tune it out. I obsess over it. To me, the freeway noise that’s somehow magnified by the alley that runs alongside our back garden is the one significant flaw of my otherwise perfectly lovely house. It’s the reason I don’t like to sit outside in the back yard. It’s why I worry about contamination of the vegetables that we grow, and encourage my kids to play in front of the house.
Which is completely delusional, I know, because it’s not like the freeway goes away when I shut the back doors and windows. But the less I hear it, the more I can forget about it.
Until I don’t.
Childhood asthma rates are now at epidemic levels, affecting one in 10 kids. So I decided to get to the bottom of the issue when it comes to where we live and find out what’s considered unsafe for me—and my kids.
First I searched the connection between air pollution and asthma—which is undeniable. Childhood asthma rates are now at epidemic levels, with more than seven million children affected, according to the CDC. That’s one in 10 kids.
Then, by plugging my zip code into ScoreCard, I found that mine ranks among the dirtiest counties in the country, when it comes to air. We place in the top 90 to 100% when it comes to the risk of airborne carcinogens, developmental toxicants and reproductive toxicants. The rankings were established in 2002 and their data has not been updated since then, but I can’t really assume that much has gotten better over the past eight years, considering that the density of our fair city has only increased.
My husband countered my hysteria by telling me that the pollution was much worse when we were kids. And sure enough, according to to Environment California, smog levels were as much as five times higher then than they are now. He also reminded me to check other zip codes to see how they stack up: Yes, even areas near the beach and the idyllic canyon where I grew up are ranked as poorly as our freeway adjacent digs.
So what can I do to protect my family from air pollution?
- Keep my kids indoors during smog alerts.
- Open my windows in the mornings to circulate air.
- Use non-toxic household cleaners and products.
- Use bedroom air filters and houseplants.
- Take off our shoes when we enter the house.
As for the freeway noise, I’m investing in earplugs.