Scorching Heat Leads To Poor Air Quality

Saint Louis Arch

Do Your Share For Cleaner Air

Article courtesy of the St. Louis Regional Clean Air Partnership

As we head into the final weeks of a summer that has already delivered a 10-day streak of triple-digit heat and a string of poor air quality days, the St. Louis Regional Clean Air Partnership is reminding residents that their voluntary efforts to reduce emissions will play a critical role in helping individuals breathe easier as the summer season rolls on.

“This summer has been one of the hottest we’ve seen in a long time, and with the heat comes poor air quality,” said Susannah Fuchs, senior director of environmental health for the American Lung Association of the Plains-Gulf region. “I wish I could say the worst is behind us, but with the region heading into what is typically the hottest time of the year, the worst may actually be yet to come in terms of our air quality. This is why it’s so important for area residents to continue to do their share for cleaner air.”

On scorching summer days, heat and sunlight react with hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides emitted by automobiles and other sources, which mix to form a ground-level layer of ozone, or smog. High levels of ground-level ozone result in the orange and red air quality days that can pose health risks for all of us, especially children, the elderly and those with respiratory concerns.

When inhaled, even at low levels, ozone can cause acute respiratory problems, aggravate asthma, result in a 14-20 percent decrease in lung capacity in healthy adults, cause inflammation of lung tissue, lead to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits and impair the body’s immune system defenses.

The good news is that there are many steps we can take to help reduce the emissions that lead to ozone formation and poor air quality. Since transportation modes have the most profound effect on air quality, efforts to carpool, vanpool, use transit, telecommute and walk or bike more (if air quality is in the good range) can help improve air quality. Those that drive alone are encouraged to combine errands into a single trip, plan their route in advance to avoid idling in traffic tie-ups and construction zones and refrain from other forms of unnecessary idling.

When the air quality is poor, residents should also plan to refuel their gas tanks after dusk, wait three seconds after refueling before removing the nozzle and never top off the tank because any fuel that drips outside of the tank adds to ozone formation. On orange and red days, it’s also important to avoid using charcoal lighter fluid when barbequing and put away gas-powered lawn mowers and other forms of gas-powered garden equipment. Those that have to mow with a gas lawn mower should do so before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m. to avoid peak ozone formation hours.

“Throughout the remainder of the summer, we highly encourage area residents to stay updated on the daily air quality forecast, so they are aware when orange and red days are predicted and can adjust their behaviors accordingly,” said Fuchs.

To access the air quality forecast, visit the Clean Air Partnership’s website at www.cleanair-stlouis.com and sign up to receive the daily forecast via email through the Environmental Protection Agency’s EnviroFlash air quality alert system. Individuals can also find the forecast on the Clean Air Partnership’s Facebook page or by following the organization on Twitter @gatewaycleanair.

For more information on the health effects of poor air quality and additional tips to help you do your share for cleaner air, visit www.cleanair-stlouis.com.