Air Pollution is Making Me Anxious

A new study has come to my attention. It proposes that air pollution may impact mental health. The BMJ published a paper that examined whether “higher past exposure to particulate air pollution is associated with prevalent high symptoms of anxiety.”

Melinda C. Power, based at John Hopkins University, was the lead author on the report. Using data on over 70,000 women between 57 and 85 years old, the Nurses’ Health Study had participants answer an anxiety survey comprised of eight questions. The conclusions found, “Exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) was associated with high symptoms of anxiety.”

However, Power noted that there could be other explanations. Her research took into account other potential causalities, including if women had lung or heart illnesses, or if they resided in big cities.

As an urban dweller, I may finally have something to pin my personal angst on.

When I moved out of Manhattan to a more bucolic borough, I thought my daily exposure to air pollution would be lessened. Unfortunately, I picked an apartment building right off of a major parkway. Fine particulate matter comes from car exhaust, and the smaller the particles the easier it is for them to get into the lungs.

The funny thing is that I know that air pollution is impacting my mental health, just not in the way the study suggested…

Recent shortness of breath and palpitations began when Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) took over the Chair of the Environmental and Public Works Committee (EPW). Then Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided that he was going to spearhead an effort to encourage states to be non-compliant with the EPA, in an effort to derail the Clean Power Plan put into play by the Obama administration. Invoking the rallying cry of a “War on Coal” and the subtext that clean air is at odds with a thriving economy, he sent a letter to state governors. While McConnell was busy rounding up states to join him, he apparently missed the bulletin that air pollution can impact developing babies while they are still in the womb.

On a day the weather turned a bit warmer and the snow began to melt, I opened a window — inadvertently welcoming particle pollution into my home. That same week, I was already feeling nervous after listening to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) duking it out with EPA administrator Gina McCarthy about droughts and the “moisture content of soil” worldwide. Dissatisfied with her responses, he wrote her a missive complaining that he hadn’t received direct answers, and “many responses contained caveats and conditions.” He requested additional “models” employed by the EPA to predict climate change. Others co-signed the communiqué, including Inhofe — after he put down his snowball.

Despite Power’s findings, I still think my anxiety can be attributed to causes beyond particle pollution.

I have frequent and disruptive fear. I’m frightened because sea lions off the coast of California have been dying in unprecedented numbers due to climate change. My scalp tingles when I look at the image of a polar bear clinging to a piece of Arctic ice smaller than my bathroom. Then there was the mice study showing that “breathing high levels of ozone could impact women’s fertility.”

When The New England Journal of Medicine reported in March, “Reduced air pollution benefits lung health in children” I noticed that my symptoms eased up. Yet as soon as I read Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-Tenn.) statement about the President’s message on greenhouse gas emissions goals and international negotiations, I felt queasy. “The Obama administration’s national energy policy is practically a national windmill policy,” he said.

Every day is a seesaw of emotions. Just when I was feeling elated that India and China have come to the realize they better work on their air pollution problems sooner rather than later, back in the United States, Sen. Rob Portman (R-KY) put forth a budget amendment to allow each state to “opt out” from the federal clean air regulations in the Clean Air Act.

All right. I have to admit it. I can’t blame all my anxiety on what I’m breathing in the air.

I have to attribute it to the fact that fossil fuel big business, their supporters in the Congress, and the money men like the Koch brothers (who sponsor newspaper “editorials”) are going to do everything in their power to prevent regulations that would impact climate change.

A poll conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University, and Resources for the Future shows that climate deniers are out of touch with 83 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Republicans who believe that global warming is becoming a serious problem. Ironically, 74 percent of Americans believe the federal government should be doing “a substantial amount to combat climate change.”

I have a horrible feeling that my anxiety isn’t going away any time soon.

This article originally appeared on Moms Clean Air Force

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