I think that New Orleans gave me asthma
One of my neighbors once told that in America, MN rates really high as one of the healthiest states. I think that that's probably true, we're not as industrial as other places, though we do have problems with agricultural pollution... but that's not what I"m talking about here. I like MN, I feel pretty good breathing the air and drinking the water here. The exact opposite was true in New Orleans. One of the first things I remember being told when I moved into the dorm was, buy bottled water. Nobody trusts the tap water in New Orleans. I don't know if this is really a valid fear, because I do know that in the US, tap water standards are more stringent than bottled water, but who knows. I guess one thing you learn when studying environmental problems is that lot's of private and even public entities don't follow safety guidelines, and often pollution limits are not as high as they should be to prevent all possible side effects. Anyways, I still drank the tap water in New Orleans because I think buying bottled water is stupid and wasteful. Besides, water was the least of my environmental worries there.
I didn't realize how bad the air pollution situation was at first, but I slowly came upon the facts. I remember being out in the quarter one day, hanging out with my painter friend Jaime and looking at the paintings of another artist set up next to Jaime. I don't remember this womans name, or what most of her art looked like, but I do remember one particular piece. There was a kind of gross green throughout the painting, with an oil refinery scene in the background. In the foreground was a kind of sickly crazy looking person, and a flower. She said this is was a painting of her hometown in, not far from New Orleans.
In an environmental policy class that I took there at UNO, I remembering learning much more about this are of Louisiana aptly referred to as "cancer alley," which is where I'm sure that the street artist was from. "Cancer alley" is a string of poor small towns, inhabited mainly by black Americans, surrounded by oil refineries, where cases of cancer, childhood lung disease (asthma, etc), and general poor mental and physical health is ridiculously high. The people that live there are too poor to move, and nobody with any power cares about them. This is the case with many small towns in the rural Louisiana, big companies move in on small towns, destroy their environment and human health, without any compensation. I remember watching a video about a town where some company started dumping some sort of industrial waste into a pond, which eventually ended destroying the livelihood and health of most people in the town. Yet, almost nothing was done to stop the dumping or help the people. This country can be a disgusting and vile place.
At any rate, besides the environmental discrimination of poor people in rural Louisiana, the city of New Orleans has its own pretty big pollution problems. For one thing, there are a great number of oil refineries that surround the city, and if any one of them were to blow, the city would be uninhabitable for a while. Going about my daily business, I would often wonder what the likelihood of such an event was, and I figured pretty high because of how corrupt oil companies seem to be, and maybe don't follow the strictest safety measures. I don't know. But being surrounded by industry, New Orleans has really really bad air quality. I knew this when I lived there, but I don't think that the gravity of the situation struck me until I left New Orleans, came home, and discovered that I had somehow developed asthma.
I never had breathing problems as a child, so when I came back to MN and started to wheeze every time I rode my bike, I thought it was weird, but I didn't think it was anything serious. After a year of not being able to breath by the time I got to class everyday, I decided to go to the doctor, and finally (yet stupidly because I should have known) learned that I have asthma. Where did it come from? Hmmm, I wonder.
So, New Orleans gave me asthma, and that sucks. I hate having to use an inhaler every time I bike, or walk rapidly, or laugh too much. But asthma is not the only problem that New Orleans air gave me. When I visited New Orleans in the summer of 2005, I developed a tonsil infection. It was weird, I wasn't sick, I just had swollen and infected tonsils. Also, when I lived in New Orleans, that spring I developed a terrible sinus infection, I think partly due to pollution and partly because of all of the natural allergens that my body wasn't use to. New Orleans air is yucky. It's humidity is full of industrial pollution, mold, plant spores, Cajun spices, etc. Apparently my lungs just can't handle New Orleans, which is sad because I love it there.