Summer will soon be here and that can mean high levels of air pollutants in our air, specifically ozone and small particles, commonly known as smog.
Meteorologists declare “Air Quality Action” days when they project that weather conditions are conducive for unhealthy air pollution. In 2012, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) called 12 “action days” for the Susquehanna Valley.
We should heed those warnings. Recent scientific studies conclude that short-term exposure to unhealthy air pollution can have significant adverse effects on pregnant women, children, the elderly and even the general population — especially those with pre-existing conditions such as asthma.
Short-term symptoms resulting from breathing high levels of ozone and fine particulate are chest pain, coughing, nausea, throat irritation, and congestion. These pollutants also aggravate bronchitis, heart disease, emphysema, and asthma — and can increase risks of stroke.
Children, senior citizens, and those with asthma or other respiratory problems are urged to limit outdoor activities when an action day is predicted.
The quality of the air we breathe is a fundamental component of our overall health. The physiological effect of short-term ozone exposure is being unable to inhale to total lung capacity. Small particles, or PM 2.5, can be especially dangerous because they can travel deep into human tissue. Scientific studies over the last two decades have shown that exposure to high levels of PM 2.5 can raise the incidence of heart and pulmonary disease, cancer, infant mortality, low birth-weight babies, and even impaired cognitive function.
Air Quality Action days are often declared when there is little wind, and when the amount of ozone or particles in stagnant air could exceed federal health standards.
The DEP monitors local and regional air quality. Local television and radio stations alert the public to an Air Quality Action day prediction. Check your newspaper’s websites as well. The Clean Air Board of Central Pennsylvania also monitors pollution levels at its website, and posts notices when DEP declares an Air Quality Action day. Go to: cleanairboard.wordpress.com
On Air Quality Action days, the public can take simple, voluntary actions to help reduce the chances of creating even more health-impairing pollution. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends 10 steps:
1. Instead of driving, share a ride, take public transportation, walk or bike.
2. If you must drive, avoid excessive idling or jack-rabbit starts, and try to consolidate errands.
3. Don’t refuel your car, or only do so after 7 pm.
4. Avoid using outboard motors, off-road vehicles, or other gasoline powered recreational vehicles.
5. Wait to mow your lawn until late evening or the next day. Also, avoid using gasoline-powered garden equipment.
6. Use latex paints instead of oil-based paints, solvents, or varnishes that produce fumes.
7. If you are barbecuing, use an electric starter instead of charcoal lighter fluid.
8. Limit or postpone your household chores that will involve the use of consumer products.
9. Conserve energy to reduce energy needs.
10. Keep your car well maintained to limit excess emissions.
As more scientists and public health officials have studied air quality, more links have discovered between pollution and illness. Our local monitoring and notification systems work like other public information systems that warn of danger and possible threats to our health. They work to protect us, and it is, therefore, wise to pay attention to them.
submitted to Sentinel by Thomas Au
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