Sentinel – the canary

“Sentinel species are organisms, often animals, used to detect risks to humans by providing advance warning of a danger. The terms primarily apply in the context of environmental hazards rather than those from other sources.” Wikipedia

I was often referred to as a canary, for my small size,  yellow shoes and yellow outfits. It has taken a whole new dimension.

In August I was in Holland for a month. The country is beautiful, from it’s cities to the countryside. For both seem very entwined through its canal system. It surprised me with its greenery, even the canals are green sometimes with moss. The boating culture fascinated me and of course the many bike paths serving like veins throughout the country are a delight for any outdoorsy person.  Kids roam free, they are often seen without adult supervisions on their bikes, or boats living a very active and free lifestyle. Wildlife mixes nicely within the urban thanks to the canals. I found it delightful.

It  surprised me negatively with it’s smoking culture. Everyone or nearly smokes. There is not much consideration for non smokers, and every outdoor space of a retsaurant or café has most guests smoking which makes terrasses very non smokers unfriendly. Smoking around children or while cycling isnt a problem either and when booking airbnb, it is often not specified that smoking is permitted at least in one of the rooms in the house – living room or kitchen. It is believed somehow that this does not affect the rest of the house. I was surprised that smokers rarely ask before lighting one whether it bothers anyone.

Coming form a long time living in the UK and partly in the USA I had forgotten that in some countries, non smoking isn’t  the default option. It is no surprise that the primary cause of premature death in the Netherlands is Lung cancer way before cardiovascular disease. In some supermarkets I was surprised to see cigarettes where normally sweets lure the customer.

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Very quickly I started feeling with a constant itch and burning sensation in my throat and lungs. I cycled a lot. Mostly between 25 to 50 km every day for 2 weeks and went to the countryside. The itch in the throat and burn in the lungs didnt vanish completely after spending some days away from the smoking house I happen to live in accidentally .

“You can’t have cleaner air than in the dutch countryside” said a fellow housemate in the house I was sharing when I was wondering about air quality in Holland considering my symptoms. ( I was probably classed as this very difficult woman in the house I shared  for expecting smokers not to smoke around me, or in the kitchen and having to be forceful about it)

I decided to do some research.

According to NL Times this August: “Environmental group Milieudefensie, the Dutch Friends of the Earth, is suing the Dutch government over air pollution in the country. The air quality in the Netherlands does not meet EU norms, especially in major Dutch cities and in the vicinity of motorways. ”

And the countryside isnt any better. The Economist published an article in 2012 :

“the ice-encrusted water is brimming with nitrates and phosphates, and the air is clogged with particulate matter. The country’s poor environmental record is revealed in a report by Natuur & Milieu, an advocacy group. Rather than conduct its own measurements the group collected data from various official agencies. Its report shows the Dutch lagging behind their European peers for quality of air, soil and surface water, stuck in fossil-fuel dependency, and with exceptionally high carbon emissions.”

NL – you have got so much going for you – surely you can sort this out!










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