You may know who you are, at least as far as air pollution is concerned.
Last week, on a misty, rainy, autumn day in Jiangsu Province, I did what I normally do before going out for morning exercise — I popped open the iPhone weather app for a quick check of the local hourly forecast. To my surprise, there was a warning at the top of the screen reading “unhealthy air quality for sensitive groups.” I hadn’t seen that before.
Who is in the sensitive group, I thought? They can’t be the 15-20% of the population that the psychologists Elaine Aron refers to in her book The Highly Sensitive Person. Nor the sensitive folk Carl Jung says are influenced by their unconscious mind.
If the air is polluted, shouldn’t we all be sensitive, I pondered? Apparently not, because a quick net search told me that some of us have the ability to suck in pollutants without apparent (initial) side-effects. Others who cannot fall into the sensitive category.
Sensitive groups, it would seem, can have an immediate, and perhaps severe, clinical reaction. But for those not immediately sensitive, are there are no implications for gobbling down toxic particles that our biological systems are not adept at processing?
Not that I don’t think the weather index warning is a not healthy idea. But would not sensitive groups take measures to limit exposure where those insensitive may not? I wonder if those regarded as insensitive may not display instant symptoms, rather harbor even harsher, hidden long-terms indications from their lack of sensitivity. Whether sensitive or not, aren’t we all vulnerable?
There are hundreds of toxic chemicals that we ingest, all the time. As David Duncan wrote in a 2006 article for the National Geographic, many chemicals were deemed miracle substances, like DDT, which helped eradicate malaria and other diseases, but which later were discovered to cause cancer. We are in the same situation with hundreds of other chemicals and applications such as PBDEs in flame retardants which we soak up in abundance every time we fly in an airplane. But we somewhat blindly consider that the benefits of polluting or using harmful chemicals outweigh the toxic side-effects.
Many of the pollutants we ingest are knowingly pumped into the air. Much more emanates from our home furnishings, the clothes we wear, the plastic containers we drink from, transportation systems, or the radiation from our electronic devices and we just don’t know the ramifications on our overall, long-term health. Most are too new and too complex to measure.
So for now, we go with what we know. Which means that there is no sense worrying about that which we don’t know, unless of course, we are in a sensitive group.