Thursday, August 23

The effects of air quality warnings

Today is one of those "action days" in Pittsburgh. You know, when the weather person mentions that people with lung illnesses or the elderly should probably stay indoors. Then there's those numbers--particulates and ozone. What do they mean? And how do those numbers affect us?

Particulates are bits of solid matter or liquid pollution in the air. (Also known as particulate matter.) Sounds great, doesn't it? So today's a yellow day for particulate matter. Not fantastic, but not awful. Overall, though, Pittsburgh is ranked #6 for long term particulate matter pollution.

The ranking system (Air Quality Index, or AQI) goes from green (0-50) to maroon (301-500). If red is bad and purple is worse, I think maroon probably means that you're inhaling a pile of ash or maybe just straight acid fumes.

But ozone--something we've heard about in the news for years--is also dangerous to breathe. It's a little more complicated to explain than particulate matter, though. Ozone is the result of a chemical reaction between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight.

 Either one--particulate matter or ozone--is not really good for us to be breathing in. It's worse for people like me with asthma (it's also bad for people with other pulmonary diseases).

 Air quality alerts are issued to warn people about the quality of the air outside and its potential to harm them or make them sick. Even healthy people (without asthma or other respiratory problems) can be affected by the air quality.

To me, the AQI suggests that I ought to keep my air conditioner on so I can breathe, not run outside, and try to not do anything strenuous outside. I keep my rescue inhaler with me all of the time. I've had to use it a lot lately, even on decent air quality days, so I'm working with my doctor to try to get my asthma under control. It's tough, but I'm hopeful we'll find something that works. In the meantime, paying attention to how I feel with whatever the AQI is for the day helps me prepare for days in the future with similar AQI ratings.

Ultimately, we need to cut down pollution to improve the AQI nationally and internationally, but perhaps more people will be convinced of that when they learn how ozone and particulate matter affect the people in their lives and the ones they love...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Talk to me! Leave a comment and let's chat.