Air Quality Awareness for The Changing of the SeasonsSeptember 27, 2018
Fall is a wonderful season when the temperature is just right, and the weather suits both your favorite indoor and outdoor activities. The air is crisp and on especially brisk mornings it might almost burn the lungs as you take a big inhale. What’s not to love, right? Unfortunately, that crisp air may be holding some dirty secrets in the form of pollution. Poor air quality can have numerous effects on not only the environment but also human health. No one is immune to the health effects of poor air quality, but individuals with pre-existing conditions have heightened susceptibility. Being cognizant of the potential air pollutants in your area can ensure that you know how to best combat respiratory and general health issues.
Ozone is the most widespread air pollutant and one of the most dangerous. The gas is commonly referred to as ”smog,” and develops from the gasses emitted from tailpipes, smokestacks, and lawnmowers. The gas is created on hot days, and can be carried by the wind thousands of miles away from where the hazardous gas originates.
When inhaled, ozone attacks the lungs and has the potential to cause premature death. Additionally, exposure to ozone causes immediate health problems, including breathing and respiratory problems. Ozone is a threat to anyone spending time outdoors, though there are some factors that cause greater risk.
Ozones most vulnerable populations include:
- Senior citizens
- Those exerting themselves outdoors (either for work or exercise)
- People with pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions
Ozone is currently regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but levels lower than the recommended amount have still been found hazardous.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is commonly found in building materials used in older homes across the country. Between 1930 and 1980 asbestos was added to many building and commercial materials to prevent fire and chemical reactions. It wasn’t until the toxin had become commonplace in the construction industry that citizens were made aware of the carcinogenic properties of asbestos-containing materials.
When inhaled microscopic asbestos fibers embed in the lining of the organs and may cause mesothelioma cancer. There are now regulations on asbestos use in the United States but the toxin is still legal and more than 2,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.
Historically asbestos exposure occured while on the jobsite and those most at risk were working as miners, firefighters, construction workers, electricians, or in the military. Today individuals may be exposed to asbestos when completing DIY home repairs if their home contains aging asbestos, or if demolition of an older building is occurring in their neighborhood.
Asbestos fibers may attach to the hair, skin, and clothing of those that come into contact with the substance and unknowingly cause further exposure.
Symptoms of asbestos related diseases do not manifest until 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure occurs and the diseases are often initially misdiagnosed.
Symptoms of mesothelioma include:
- Shortness of breath
- Fluid build up in the lungs
- Weight loss
There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos and it cannot identified with the naked eye. If you believe your home, school, or workplace may contain asbestos the space should be inspected, and if found the toxin should be removed by an abatement profesional.
Studies have shown that smoke is a large contributor to poor air quality. This time of year, especially in the Pacific Northwest, hazardous smoke can be traced back to wood burning. Wood burning causes particulate pollution, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), climate change pollution, and carbon monoxide.
Using wood as a prime source of heat during cold months is ill advised because burning for 24-hours a day can seriously impact air quality. Older wood burning devices are especially troublesome and often create the most pollution while ineffectively heating. If you have an older wood burning stove check to see if your community offers a wood stove change out program. The program encourages homeowners, especially low income families, access cleaner heating options.
In 2015 the EPA enacted more strict standards for wood burning devices but companies have until 2020 to comply. When purchasing wood burning devices look for hang tags that signify the products that are compliant with the most recent regulations.
Healthier alternatives to wood burning include solar, heat pumps, or natural gas.
What You Can Do
No one wants to spend their lives indoors but there are precautions you can take to mitigate your risk of the negative health effects of poor air quality.
- Check daily pollution forecasts in your area and adjust your day to avoid high risk areas
- Avoid outdoor exercise on days with high pollution levels
- Never exercise near busy roadways
- Don’t let your car idle
- Carpool when possible
- Avoid burning trash which contributes to particle pollution of the air
Take steps to lower your personal emission of air pollution and be a part of the solution, not the problem.