Jay Rivera sees green every time a car or truck covered in yellow pollen pulls into the Sparklin’ Kleen Car Wash in Vineland.
Pollen season translates to extra business for the Main Road car wash, and Rivera, its assistant manager, just points to the lines of vehicles waiting for a good scrubbing.
“Just take a look,” he said with a big smile.
But not everybody is as happy as Rivera. Researchers say this is New Jersey’s worst recorded pollen season. The state is covered in fine yellow grains of pollen, and people with allergies are suffering more than ever from, at this point, tree pollen.
The pollen season was at its worst May 6 and 7, when the count exceeded 11,000 in a state where the count might reach 6,000 in another bad year, said Leonard Bielory, a visiting professor at Rutgers University’s Center for Environmental Prediction and past director of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s Asthma and Allergy Research Center.
“I’ve never seen pollen counts that high,” Bielory said.
A pollen count is the number of grains of pollen collected during a 24-hour period in a cubic meter of air.
Hurricane Sandy deposited more than enough rain to help produce a severe pollen season, Bielory said. That rain, coupled with longer hours of sunlight and eventual warming temperatures, created a pollen season that arrived late, but with a significant punch, he said.
While the pollen count in the state will likely not reach 11,000 again this year, New Jersey residents still have a few more weeks before they are rid of the problem, he said.
Friday’s pollen count was 554, according to data compiled from around the state.
Bielory said that count should start to climb in the next two to three days, although the problem will not be related to trees — grass and weeds will help push the pollen count up to perhaps 2,000.
That change, he said, also will bring new problems for allergy sufferers: While tree pollen causes people to sneeze and have runny noses, the pollen from grass and weeds causes problems with watery eyes.
Bradley Bisk, a physician who works out of AtlantiCare’s urgent care centers, said allergy patients started rolling in once the region went through a “sudden warm burst.”
“This year, it seems to be worse,” he said.
Patients are suffering from symptoms that include runny noses, scratchy throats, sinus infections and fevers, Bisk said. A number of those patients opted to visit an urgent care center, because their symptoms were too much for over-the-counter medications to handle.
Bisk said it is hard to determine whether the symptoms are worse for members of a particular age group.
He said the pollen-related problems do seem to be a little less severe on the coast — something that falls in line with what he called an old seashore marketing tool.
“Years ago, (people) used to go to the shore to avoid allergies,” he said.
Some still do.
On Friday, Vineland residents Paul and Marie Johnson were sitting in their pollen-covered pickup truck, waiting their turn for a wash at Sparklin’ Kleen. The couple said they bring their truck to the car wash about once a week.
But the bigger problem involves Paul Johnson’s allergies, which he said are worse than ever despite taking medication. Paul Johnson said he and his wife wound up fleeing to Atlantic City on Thursday for an overnight stay just to get away from the pollen in and around their home.
“It was a little better,” Paul Johnson said.
Marie Johnson said she is constantly cleaning to remove the pollen from inside their home. She said she finally just closed the windows and turned on the air-conditioning.
Dalva Karpinski said her Vineland-based Absolutely Maid Clean business is getting additional calls from allergy sufferers who want their homes cleaned of pollen.
Karpinski said those jobs are more difficult than regular cleaning jobs. They usually require more time and special cleaning techniques to make sure all of the pollen is removed, she said.
“You have to be a lot more detail-oriented,” she said. “Pollen is a tough thing to clean.”
Meanwhile, while Rivera enjoys the extra business at his car wash, he also knows how some of his customers are suffering.
Rivera said he has pollen-related allergies and takes medication to help cope with the symptoms. Some other car wash employees also have allergy problems, but they all work through the symptoms, he said.
“We do what we have to do,” he said.
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