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Love Is In the Air but this Air is Toxic 🤢: A Call for Environmental Justice on Valentine's Day

By Maliyah Womack

Ah, February. The month of love and romance, and more importantly, the perfect month to shed light on the critical issue of air quality and its impact on our health.

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While I am positively a Certified Lover Girl at heart and appreciate the celebration of love during this holiday, let's redirect our attention from the usual themes of Cupid and consumerism to what truly matters: our health. Love may be in the air but so are air pollutants (and these girls are thick). Even as we’re preparing to celebrate love on Valentine's Day, let’s talk about our hearts in a different way. What about how air pollution can impact our heart health or take over our lungs, making it unbearable to breathe?

Nature contributes its own pollutants but it is essential to recognize the human-made sources that significantly worsen our circumstances. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, "exposure to air pollutants or airborne allergens can directly harm our respiratory and cardiovascular systems." What's even more alarming is that air pollution disproportionately impacts our communities.  When it comes to exposure to air pollutants, one striking fact is that, Black Americans are N 2 Deep due to our proximity to highways and high-pollutant facilities such as chemical plants and gas factories. The tragedy of high blood pressure and high cholesterol are tales known all too well in our communities. Through our research we've come to learn Cupid and our diets aren’t the only culprit… air pollution is. 

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Speaking for myself, growing up, I always assumed my parents, aunts, and uncles, all acquired cardiovascular disease on account of our diets and lack of exercise but the reality is far greater than that. While our diet does play a significant role, it is our inherent exposure to particulate matter that increases our risk for contracting these conditions. Even the EPA noted that exposure to various air pollutants have “been found to contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease”.

These disparities are rooted in historical and ongoing racial and residential segregation, with communities of color bearing the brunt of environmental injustices. From forcing communities of color to bear the blunt impact of chemical and power plants, to current gentrification leading to displacement of these communities, we, unfortunately, are accustomed to these disparities.

Despite producing significantly less air pollution than our yt counterparts, we find ourselves breathing in more of it according to a study conducted by the National Library of Medicine. Not only that but, in an article on “Disparities In the Impact of Air Pollution” by the American Lung Association, they note that Black communities and various communities of color “had a higher risk of premature death from particle pollution” than White communities. This paints a scary portrait for us as individuals but, there are ways for us to bob and weave Cupid’s toxic (air)rows.  

Let’s change this portrait. This Valentine’s Day, let’s work to improve the air quality in our homes and around us so that love is the only thing that’s in the air: 

  • Implement Basic Home Maintenance: Begin with regular vacuuming and dusting to effectively reduce particulate matter in the air at home

  • Maintain HVAC Systems: Ensure the regular replacement of filters in HVAC systems, and consider installing air purifiers to significantly enhance indoor air quality

  • Incorporate Air-Purifying Plants: Opt for a natural approach by introducing air-purifying plants into your living space, which can contribute to diminishing airborne bacteria and improving overall air quality

Photo Credits: Holly St Clair for

Extend your efforts beyond your home by engaging with your community: 

  • Engage with Local Officials and Business Owners: Initiate conversations with local officials and collaborate with business owners to identify opportunities for raising awareness and advocating for improvements in air quality

  • Explore Environmental Funding Opportunities: Investigate available funding dedicated to mitigating air pollution, and actively leverage your voice to support initiatives focused on enhancing air quality for future generations

  • Advocate for Environmental Justice and Sustainable Practices: Raise awareness about the correlation between air pollution and health disparities, channeling the spirit of love into advocacy for environmental justice and the promotion of sustainable practices

By fostering a deeper understanding of the environmental challenges we face and working together, we can create a future where love is in the air, minus the toxicity. 

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