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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: Air Quality

PART 52: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.

We live in Puglia in the summer and then back again in the winter.

Step 1: I don't want to ignore the challenges of living in Puglia in this blog; it is better to confront them head-on and learn ways to deal with them.

Since I have asthma, one of these challenges is the air quality in Puglia. Let's go through challenges and figure out how to deal with them.

Step 2: Winter wood pellets.

Italy and the EU are in a difficult situation since energy is expensive, and heating one's home in the winter can take a big chunk of one's budget. The solution that many are turning to are wood burning pellets.

But the consequences include:

  • Smoke from wood-burning stoves contains fine particulate matter and other dangerous substances like carbon monoxide.

  • The fine particulate matter released by wood burning has been shown to "flood" the home and impact the community.

  • In Italy, wood-burning stoves comprise 75 percent of the total health costs of pollution from domestic heating and cooking.

When we were in Puglia over the winter, the smoke from wood pellets was so strong that it irritated my lungs and made hanging laundry outside challenging since clothes absorb the smoke smell.

But it is understandable why many turn to wood pellet heating because it is more cost-effective.

Step 3: Secondhand smoke.

Coming from California, we are not used to the amount of secondhand smoke we breathe here in Puglia.

We have a favorite coffee place where we start our day in front of the Ionian Sea. It has a beautiful outdoor seating area which we love. Since Italy currently doesn't have laws regulating smoking in outdoor cafe areas, the place often fills with fumes when smokers arrive.

From another culture, seeing mothers smoking beside their children at a table or a group of grandmas light up seems strange. The photos of tumors and corrupted lungs on the back of the cigarette packs also seem odd but make little impact.

Smoking was even more prevalent when I lived in Italy in the 1980s, so there is definite progress. But, for now, breathing some secondhand smoke here cannot be avoided.

Step 4: Car exhaust.

Car exhaust is everywhere; whether one lives in New York, Tokyo, or Gallipoli, it is not confined to one country or culture.

We like to live in a town where we can walk to the historical center or a bar for a coffee. Row houses are common in our neighborhood, with streets on both sides of the buildings. The consequence is a lot of car exhaust from the main street in the back and some, but less, exhaust from the front.

If one chooses to live in a city or town, car exhaust will be part of life. Or one could choose to live in the countryside, away from cars and traffic. Will the air always be pure there? See the next point.

Step 5: Burning vegetation.

This week we have driven through a couple of smoke clouds generated by farmers burning vegetation, such as dead olive trees. Yesterday evening our house was filled with smoke from vegetation burning in the fields nearby, especially in the summer.

If one chooses to live in the countryside to avoid city air pollution, it would be wise to investigate the vegetation-burning practices in that area.

Step 6: Navigating the challenges of air quality.

When creating a life in Italy, or in any foreign country for that matter, it is essential to figure out what I can change and what I cannot.

The first thing I can change is my attitude: things will differ from my home country. Not necessarily better or worse, but different.

The second is to decide how to navigate these differences.

  • Wood pellets

Through trial and error, we have learned not to leave windows open during wood pellet season and to dry our laundry inside. (We ended up washing and rewashing laundry to get the smoke smell out until we decided that it would be easier to set up the indoor clothesline.)

  • Secondhand smoke

We have no control over whether someone smokes, so we can sit indoors, where smoking is prohibited, or outdoors. If we sit outside and someone sits next to us and smokes, we don't let it ruin our time. We either put up with it and enjoy our surroundings, move to a different table, or continue our day elsewhere.

  • Car exhaust

Since we like living in a town, car exhaust is part of our experience, which we have accepted. Lately, however, my lungs have been feeling inflamed, and my asthma increasing, so we will have to play this one by ear.

  • Burning vegetation

Farmers burning vegetation in fields sometimes affects us at home when the wind blows in a certain direction. We close the windows on one side of the house, which usually solves the problem.

Insights: I hope this blog doesn't come off as negative. There are challenges to living in Puglia, and if we are going to make this a success, we have to find ways to navigate them to keep the experience positive.

One of our best decisions was to rent rather than buy immediately, since air quality can impact our long-term housing decisions.

More next time.

My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US:

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