Understanding Air Quality Alerts

Health Impact Of Air Quality Alerts

KERA news for North Texas

US EPA
Air pollution watches are common this time of year. They’ve been around since 2000, but rarely does anyone say what they mean. In a KERA Health Checkup, Robert Kent, Director of Environmental Programs for the North Texas Commission, explains the alerts are a warning about ozone in the North Texas air.

Robert Kent: Ozone is basically three oxygen molecules that have been bonded together. It’s highly reactive and unstable and so when it gets into the lungs then it ends up causing coughing, throat irritation, pain and burning in the chest and chest tightness. Additionally, if you have asthma or emphysema it can aggregate those conditions.

They’ve done some studies about what happens when we have ozone in the area and they’ll find that trips to the emergency room increase. There are more people who call in sick to work. There are more students who take absent on days when we have those. And so ozone definitely has an impact on the health of the general population.

Baker: Usually when the media gives those various levels, they just basically say, “We have an ozone alert at level orange.” But no one ever really says what that means. So what does each level represent?

Kent: So they’re color-coded on a scale so green, no problem at all. Yellow is moderate. Orange is unhealthy for sensitive groups – sensitive groups would be anyone that has respiratory problems. This would be people with asthma, emphysema, or other type of lung conditions.

Baker: So on an orange alert day, what should such people do?

Robert Kent: Individuals who are sensitive to ozone pollution should limit their outdoor activity. People who are not sensitive to ozone pollution, who don’t have asthma or emphysema or other lung conditions, they may have some effects if they are doing a lot of outdoor exertion. So if they’re working out a lot, or running, or playing basketball, they may end up feeling some of the impacts from ozone pollution on days like that.

Then you move up to red, which is unhealthy for pretty much anyone. And then you can move on to higher levels of maroon and purple, which are hazardous and very unhealthy. We haven’t had a level above red in many, many years. But this year we’ve already had one or two days that were red, and last year we had one day that was red as well.

Baker: I was just wondering, what would all of this mean for someone who is in reasonable good health? Read more…

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