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Air Pollution and Tips on How to Protect Yourself


Hello all. It's Chris from John C. Flood again. And today, we're going to chat about air pollution. These last couple of months, the northern Virginia, D.C., and Maryland areas have had their fair share of alerts from the National Weather Service noting the poor air quality. And along with extremely hot and humid days we've had, it's wreaked havoc on the Metro D.C. area.

So what is a simple explanation of air pollution? Air pollution is made up of many kinds of gases, droplets, and particles that reduce air quality. Air can be polluted in both the city and the country. In the city, cars, buses, and airplanes, as well as industry and construction, may cause air pollution. In the country, dust from tractors plowing fields, trucks and cars driving on dirt and gravel roads, rock quarries, and smoke from wood and crop fires may cause air pollution.

Ground level ozone is the major part of air pollution in most cities. Ground level ozone is created when engine and fuel gases already released into the air interact when sunlight hits them, which we have had quite a few of those lately. Ozone levels increase in cities where the air is still, the sun is bright, and the temperature is warm. Ground level ozone should not be confused with the good ozone that is miles up in the atmosphere and that protects us from the sun's harmful radiation.

What symptoms does air pollution cause? Air pollution can irritate the eyes, throat, and lungs. Burning eyes, cough, and chest tightness are common with exposure to high levels of air pollution. Different people can react very differently to air pollution. Some people may notice chest tightness or cough. Or others might not notice any effects at all. Because exercise requires faster, deeper breathing, it may make their symptoms worse. People who have heart disease, such as angina, which is chest pain, or lung disease, such as asthma or emphysema, may be very sensitive to air pollution exposure and may notice symptoms when others do not.

Is air pollution bad for my health? Fortunately, for most people, the symptoms of air pollution exposure usually go away as soon as the air quality improves. However, certain groups of people are more sensitive to the effects of air pollution than others. One note is children probably feel the effects of lower levels of pollution more than adults. They also experience more illness, such as bronchitis, earaches in areas of high pollution than in areas with cleaner air. People with heart or lung disease also react more severely to polluted air. During times of heavy pollution, their condition may worsen to the point that they must limit their activities or even seek additional medical care. In the past, a number of deaths have been associated with severely polluted conditions. Pollutions this bad are rare in the United States today.

Is there a group that keeps track of air pollution? Yes, the Environmental Protection Agency, known as the EPA, checks and reports on air quality in the United States. The EPA, in cooperation with local air quality boards, measure the level of pollution in the air over many large cities and a number of rural areas. Because of the agency's efforts, the nation's air quality have greatly improved over the last 20 years. Newspapers, television, and radio stations often give air quality reports in areas where pollution is a problem. The air quality index, or you might see it as AQI acronym, is a scale of air quality that ranges from 0 to 500 and is used in many weather reports. An AQI score of over 100 indicates unhealthy air conditions.

What can you do to protect your family and yourself? Check the predicted AQI in your area. Be careful if the AQI is greater than 100. Also, be careful if there are high-risk weather conditions, such as a hot, sunny day and if you begin to develop symptoms like chest tightness, burning eyes, or a cough. You can protect yourself and your family from the effects of air pollution by doing a few of the following. Stay indoors as much as you can during days when pollution levels are high.

Many pollutants have lower levels indoors than outdoors. Of course, ensuring your home's central air conditioning system is working properly in keeping your home cool and comfortable is very important when conditions outside are at dangerous levels. If your central air conditioning system is not working properly or at all, then please call a qualified, professional technician, such as somebody from John C. Flood, and we can send somebody out right away to assess the issues and have you back up running right away.

If you must go outside, limit outside activity to the early morning hours or wait until after sunset. This is important in high ozone conditions, such as in many larger cities, because sunshine increases ozone levels. Don't exercise or exert yourself outdoors when air quality reports indicate unhealthy conditions. The faster you breathe, the more pollution you take into your lungs. Now, these steps will generally prevent symptoms in healthy adults and children. However, if you live or work close to a known pollution source or if you have a chronic heart or a lung problem, talk with your doctor about other ways to protect yourself from air pollution. And thank you very much.