Air Quality 101 •
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Protecting Children from Air Pollution • Fact Sheets •
Smog Season 2012 Goes Out "Like a Lamb"
After experiencing extreme heat in June, with "Code Purple" for metro Atlanta (very unhealthy for everyone) on June 29, a change in weather conditions in late summer resulted in a relatively mild smog season. After racking up a dozen unhealthy air quality days in June and July, August saw only 2 exceedances and September has had only 1 day so far above the current federal limit for ozone.
Weather was a big help, according to Dr. Roby Greenwald, Assistant Research Professor at Emory and long-time M&O advisory board member. “The main reason ozone is highest in summer is because sunlight is an essential ingredient in the chemical reactions that form ozone, and sunlight is of course much more intense in the summer than other times of year. In June, with extreme heat and dry, stagnant air and peak sunlight intensity, ozone reached very unhealthy levels. But the higher humidity, windy conditions and rain that arrived in August and September kept ozone concentrations lower for the rest of the summer.”
Dr. Michael Chang, air quality forecaster and Deputy Director of Georgia Tech’s Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems, is cautiously optimistic. “During the 2012 summer smog season, Atlanta saw 17 days when air quality exceeded federal and state standards for safe air; which is 17 days too many. Still, it is with cautious optimism that I can say that our air is getting better,” says Dr. Chang. “This was an unusually hot summer and in the past, it was these kinds of summers that produced upwards of 50, 60, and 70 poor air quality days–even with an air quality standard that was not as tight as it is today. In fact, by the standard that was in place in 1999 when Atlanta experienced 69 exceedance days during another hot summer, the number of days in 2012 only would have been 8. “ Dr. Chang goes on to conclude: “Air pollution in Atlanta is down, but it is not yet out. We need to support Mothers & Others for Clean Air and finish the job.”
Further reductions in vehicle and power plant emissions are needed for Atlanta to get beyond “code orange” for good. The current federal standard for ground-level ozone of 75 parts per billion (ppb) is higher than what has been recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific advisory committee. With a stronger limit for ozone in the recommended range of 60-70 ppb, Atlanta would have had between 25 and 65 days rated code orange, red or purple.
Read a summary of summer 2012 Atlanta smog stats here.
To help curb the number of "bad air" days in Georgia's urban areas, please consider making a commitment to at least one personal action to reduce your contribution to air pollution.
Get Informed About Asthma
Do you, your child or another family member have asthma? American Lung Association in Georgia (ALAG) offers programs and resources to help families effectively manage asthma.
Browse ALAG programs offered in Georgia.
Learn about the connection between healthy outdoor air and lung health.
AIR QUALITY 101
|What Is Air Pollution?
|Air pollution is a variety of substances and gases in our air that pose risks to health. Important air pollutants include ozone, nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (PM), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), toxic substances such as mercury and some naturally occurring substances such as pollen. Read more.
What is Smog or Ozone?
Smog is another term for ground level ozone, which is formed when nitrogen oxide (NOx) combines with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight. NOx are a by-product of fossil fuel combustion (oil, natural gas, coal) and so come from cars and trucks, power plants, and industrial processes.
What is Soot or Particulate Matter?
Particle pollution, or particulate matter (PM), is a mixture of solids and liquid droplets that vary in size. PM includes aerosols and fine solids, such as dust. These particles can get trapped in the lungs and cause pulmonary and circulatory problems, as well as trigger asthma attacks. High levels of PM has also been linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and slow lung function growth in children. Read More about how exposure to particulate matter exacerbates respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
What is Mercury?
Methylmercury (MeHg) is a developmental neurotoxin that interferes with brain development. Human exposure results principally from consumption of fish and other seafood contaminated by mercury. Learn about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to reduce mercury pollution through the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.
Health Effects of Bad Air
Exposure to many pollutants in the air can result in a range of adverse health effects from shortness of breath and coughing to heart attacks and lung cancer.
Medical Perspectives on Air Pollution
Mothers & Others for Clean Air partner organization Rollins School of Public Health at Emory is home to a number of leading air pollution scientists. Read Dr. Jeremy Sarnat's publication linking different kinds of fine particulate matter to emergency department (ED) visits and Dr. Matthew Strickland's paper demonstrating a clear connection between ozone and traffic pollution and pediatric ED visits in Atlanta.
Read about a major study showing that air pollution is not just a problem for children and adults with asthma. Children in polluted areas developed asthma at higher rates and had slower lung function growth than children in less polluted areas.
Read the latest Report on Childhood Asthma from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Protecting Children from Air Pollution
In 2007, Mothers & Others for Clean Air united a group of air quality, public health and medical experts to update public health guidelines that outline appropriate levels of outdoor activity on smog alert days. This document served as the basis for user-friendly fact sheets for school staff and faculty, athletic directors, pediatricians and other health professionals, day care center directors, other child care providers and the general public on the appropriate precautions to take when air quality is poor.
Mothers & Others for Clean Air thanks Kaiser Permanente for its generous support in making possible the production and distribution of thousands of smog safety guidance documents.
Sign Up for Smog Alert Emails
Read About Childhood Asthma
Download Smog Safety Guidance Documents:
Guidance for Georgia Families: Outdoor Air Quality & Physical Activity
Guidance for Georgia Childcare Providers: Outdoor Air Quality & Physical Activity
Guidance for Georgia Schools: Outdoor Air Quality & Physical Activity
Guidance for Georgia Coaches: Outdoor Air Quality & Physical Activity
Guidance for Georgia Summer Camp Providers: Outdoor Air Quality & Physical Activity
In-Depth Air Quality & Physical Activity Guidance
Student Athletes and Outdoor Air Quality
Good news for athletes--the 2011 Sports Medicine Handbook from the National Federation of State High School Associations includes guidance regarding outdoor air quality and exercise. The NFHS handbook includes the following statement about athletes and air quality:
The handbook goes on to offer the following recommendations for athletics directors and coaches, very similar to what the Air Quality Health Advisory Task Force convened by Mothers & Others for Clean Air developed in 2008:
While air pollution has been decreasing in the U.S. in most urban centers in recent years, air quality is still a significant concern in athletics. Athletes are at special risk of inhaling air pollutants for the following reasons:
- Increase in respirations during exercise result in the intake of 10 to 20 times the normal volume of air per minute.
- A larger fraction of air is inhaled through the mouth during exercise, bypassing nasal filtration.
- Increased velocity of respirations forces air deeper into the lungs.
- Distance runners should avoid running next to busy roadways.
- Ozone exposure can be lessened by early morning workouts.
- Athletes with asthma must be carefully monitored when the AQI is above 100 and a rescue inhaler should be readiy available (see asthma chapter). Asthma symptoms may not worsen until the following day after exposure to air pollution.
- Practices and contests should be modified or moved indoors when the AQI is above 100 and consideration given to rescheduling or moving them when the AQI is greater than 200.
The handbook that contains these statements on air quality was distributed to all 20,000+ high schools in the U.S. Mothers & Others for Clean Air applauds NFHS for addressing this importance health concern for high school athletes.
Is your/your student's high school coach adjusting practice on code orange days? Let us know!
Better Transportation for Better Health
Health Effects of Bad Air
How Does Air Pollution Affect Animals?
Particulate Matter 101
Personal Action to Reduce Air Pollution
Safer and Healthier School Buses
What is Air Pollution?
Clean Air Act in Plain English
American Lung Association--Healthy Air
Georgia agency responsible for monitoring ambient air quality and meeting Clean Air Act requirements set by EPA:
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), Air Protection Branch
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