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A Journey of Environmental and Personal Change

A case submitted by

Tracey Zheng

I was born and raised until I was 15 years old in a small industrial city in northeast China. When I was very young, I had no idea about the environment around me. The only thing I noticed was that during the winter, the sun didn’t come out. It wasn't until 2008, when the Olympics were held in Beijing, that I first heard the term "air pollution." Then my family realized that our city was highly polluted. We started to wear masks because the air pollution was so severe that it blocked the sun for half of the year. From then on, my father became very sensitive to air pollution, often saying, “I cannot breathe.” I also developed asthma when I was five.  

When I went to high school, my parents moved to a coastal city in the same province. It was not an industrial city, and there were not many factories, so the air quality was much better. However, during the summer, it got really hot and humid. Water seeped through the walls of our house, and cars rusted in the parking lot. What was worse was that the ocean was blocked by a type of seaweed called Enteromorpha because there were so many allergens. It was supposed to be fun and interesting to swim in the sea and enjoy sunlight on the beach during the summer, but due to the algae, I barely had time to enjoy the ocean and the beach. I always hoped the algae would soon disappear. Unfortunately, it just got worse every year.  

At 18, I moved to New York. Things were so different, especially since there was no air pollution to worry about and no algae in the sea during the summer. I remained sensitive to air conditioning and the ocean, even when in New York City, but those things never bothered me anymore. It has become a habit for me to check the air and the sea because I know that elsewhere, people are still suffering from poor air quality and ocean pollution.


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