How We Are Being Exposed to an Invisible Killer

Before I moved to the United States, I had been breathing in air full of toxins for years. Prior to the pandemic, people in our country already had to wear masks regularly, which trained us to be used to wearing those uncomfortable covers. Almost all of Korea was surrounded by extremely polluted air with a high concentration of ultrafine dust.

When I moved, I was surprised at how much fresher the air was and, how much clearer the skies were here. In Korea, there are many restrictions due to the murky air and dystopian-looking skies. For instance, I would have to stay indoors for weeks when the advisory levels rocketed, hindering me from performing any outdoor activities and even going to school. You could almost call it a time of “pre-quarantine.”

I was lucky enough to escape from the prison of pollution. But was I really? The answer is: we all are actually being exposed to this invisible killer.

Fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) is a particle that’s 20 to 30 times smaller than a human hair. It is 2.5 microns (1㎛ = 1/1000 mm) in diameter or less, negatively impacting your body, especially the respiratory system and the lungs.

This dust usually originates from workplaces such as factories, constructions, and power stations. Because it’s so tiny, the body can’t filter it out, so it stays inside causing various conditions, such as asthma, bronchitis, or even lung cancer. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) claimed that 99 percent of the world’s population inhales air that exceeds the limits of WHO guidelines for high levels of pollutants in 2019.

Not only do these particles affect the respiratory systems, but they also invade the bloodstream in our bodies and possibly the brain.

A recent study showed that bad indoor air quality is associated with damage to several cognitive functions, including our concentration and information processing capabilities. Joseph G. Allen, the director of the Harvard Healthy Buildings program and the study’s senior author, said: ”This study shows that the air you’re breathing at your desk at that moment has an impact on how well you think.” The United States Global Change Research Program also claimed that early life exposure to air pollution can lead to respiratory, cardiovascular, mental, and perinatal disorders.

There are simple ways to prevent this problem. Actions to strengthen traffic demand management and the expansion of exclusive public transport zones that restrict passenger car operation are necessary.

Let us not imagine a future of people striving to buy clean air. Let us not see our later generations suffer to even breathe. We are all being threatened by this invisible killer, and we cannot let it destroy our future.


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Parker-Pope, Tara. “How Bad Indoor Air Quality Can Affect Your Brain.” The New York Times, 2021 The New York Times Company, 28 Sept. 2021, <www.nytimes.com/2021/09/16/well/air-quality-brain-function.html.>


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