Chatham's open spaces are among our greatest assets. They keep our town beautiful and sought-after, bring us joy, clean our water and air, and make us healthier and stronger.
Chatham residents make tens of thousands of visits to our open spaces every year, and our enjoyment of these spaces increased even more in these first weeks of our social distancing. How fortunate we are to have a rich array of open spaces during good times and bad! These smart investments are paying off.
Especially relevant now is that our open spaces help purify our air. Clean air is vital to our health, particularly our children, developing babies, elderly, and everyone with underlying conditions ranging from asthma to cardiovascular issues. Trees in our open spaces filter out massive amounts of dirty dust, the "fine particulate matter" produced by vehicle exhaust, road and construction dust, gas/oil facilities and other sources. Stands of trees have been shown to prevent more than 50% of such poisonous dust from reaching our lungs. More trees equal healthier lungs and lives.
It's no wonder that a new study by Harvard's Chan School of Public Health shows that coronavirus and air pollution are linked. Dirtier air weakens our lungs and immune systems, and COVID-19 is a virus that attacks these systems. A one-unit increase in long-term exposure to fine particulate matter is associated with a 15% increase in the COVID-19 mortality rate. The study attempted to isolate for the virus by controlling for factors like population density and smoking rates. The implication is clear: Clean air, filtered by our natural open spaces, is a partial defense against dangerous respiratory viruses.
So let's celebrate our open spaces on Earth Day this month, and every day we live on earth.
Chair, Chatham Township Open Space Committee