Think About It: Smoke gets in your lungs

Smoke in your lungs, your eyes, nose, throat is all bad. Nothing romantic in this reality scene.

I am embarrassed to think that I deliberately and happily drew smoke directly into my lungs. I thought the ritual of cigarette lighting was cool, sophisticated and romantic. I managed to leave the illusion behind nearly 30 years ago. It wasn’t easy because I enjoyed it and never thought of it as the addiction it was. That is not until I realized if I had another cigarette, I would be smoking again.

Smoke from wildfires in British Columbia and western Washington are filling our skies from the ground up. Five hundred wildfires burning in British Columbia account for most of it. A Canadian wildfire map shows the center of the province totally covered in numerous fires along with a few near the southwest coast.

Our beautiful and greater Sequim is experiencing its second consecutive summer of smoke-filled skies. The sea, mountains, trees and homes are shrouded in smoky haze. We are warned that the air is so befouled by smoke that it can be hazardous to the elderly, children and medically compromised. A person with compromised lung function is especially at risk.

We are warned to take these warnings seriously. There is danger to our health to be out and about breathing smoky air hour after hour, day after day.

Take a deep breath

We don’t think about breathing most of the time; we don’t have to. Breathing is an involuntary function of the body designed to keep us alive. Unless, we are contemplating our breaths in meditation, we don’t think about breathing. That is, until, something interferes with getting adequate air into our lungs. Inadequate intake of air can be caused by choking or being in an area with limited oxygen in the air, usually accompanied by particulate matter and commonly known as poor air quality.

Damaged and/or diseased lungs can leave us thinking we have inadequate air even though good air might get to our lungs. Diseased lungs fail to fulfill the primary function of the lungs which is to move oxygen into the blood stream and remove carbon dioxide out of the blood stream.

Lungs perform the life-sustaining function of directing oxygen to the organs of our body and removing some waste through our respiration. They can be damaged by breathing smoke and particulates in the air.

Breathe in as deeply as you can inside and feel the satisfaction of getting air to the deepest part of your lungs. Don’t risk losing lung capacity; it doesn’t come back.

Ironies of wildfires

This miracle of design continues when we remember that trees and other plant life take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen through a process called photosynthesis.

Providing oxygen to the air is not the plant’s primary purpose; rather, it’s a byproduct of a process that produces the nutrients trees and other vegetation need to sustain life.

Wildfires in forested lands destroy trees, an understood source of oxygen renewal that sustains human life, and spread pollution carried by winds far beyond the source of the fire.

Each wildfire removes a part of the cycle of sustainable life and fouls the air as if to remove the remaining oxygen.

My research tells me that the primary reason for this unprecedented level of wildfires in modern times is a decrease in rainfall and an increase of long dry spells in the western U.S. We’re having one of those upside-down weather experiences where there is too much rainfall on the East Coast and not enough on the West Coast.

Some research suggests the variation is related to a decline in Arctic sea ice resulting in weakened wind conditions that don’t move weather systems to our area. All say more study is needed.

The worldly study of science and the future doesn’t help much when someone is struggling for breath. It’s the worst feeling in the world and can quickly become panic if action not taken.

Whose fault is it?

Does it really matter?

It’s puzzling to me why humans support deregulation of environment controls and, in some cases, seek to demonize instead of empowering scientists who tell us clean air and water is in jeopardy. Scientists tell us managing the environment is a long-term challenge and that we must continue to study and act to save and protect our environment; that soon could be too late.

The Sequim air we are looking at today is not unlike the atmosphere that used to

rest in Los Angeles and currently rests in Beijing, China. Regulations improved the atmosphere of L.A., especially the pollution cause by automobile traffic. Now, there is a call to remove the regulations.


Why become the old L.A. or the current Beijing, China?

Instead of encouraging stewardship of our planet, we are enabled to do nothing by a host of elected leaders who can’t seem to bring themselves to study, really study an issue and become informed so they can lead.

Part of the paralysis I can understand. Just preparing for this column reminds me of how complex the environment is and how much there is to learn. I see again how many dots must be connected to form an educated opinion. It’s not just air and water, it’s business, money, jobs that need to be brought into the discussion

We need balance and perspective, but we need oxygen in clean air more. Those of you, like me, who were with a father who spent the last years of his life struggling for breath after years of working in unregulated mines, don’t easily forget. My dad was sadly valiant and proud to be as self-reliant as he could until his lungs simply gave up.

He was at the mercy of ignorance of science at best, and at worse, people who too easily sacrificed another’s well-being as a means to an end.

Ignoring either is no longer an excuse.

Bertha Cooper spent her career years as a health care organization and program administrator and consultant and is a featured columnist in Sequim Gazette. Cooper has lived in Sequim with her husband for nearly 20 years.