Air Quality Is A Year-Round Issue


Article courtesy of the St. Louis Regional Clean Air Partnership

With the dog days of summer now upon us, it’s hard to believe that fall is just around the corner. In a matter of weeks, cooler temps will begin settling in. As they do, many assume that the threat of poor air quality will disappear with the searing heat. Unfortunately, bad air is a year-round issue, making it critical for us to remain committed to doing our share for cleaner air no matter the season.

During the year, our region deals with the effects of both ozone and particulate matter (PM) pollution. While ozone is most prevalent during the summer months, PM is a pollutant that can create breathing concerns all year long.

Particulate matter is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Some particles such as dust, dirt, soot or smoke are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye, while other fine particles, such as acids, organic chemicals, metals, soil and dust particles and allergens are so small they can only be detected by using an electron microscope. With diameters of 2.5 micrometers and smaller, a size nearly 30 times smaller than a single strand of human hair, fine airborne particles come from a variety of sources, including motor vehicles, power plants and wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. Because of their minuscule size, fine particles can travel deep into the lungs, and in some cases, the bloodstream.

Both ozone and particulate matter pollution can cause a variety of health concerns, including wheezing, headaches, nausea, eye and throat irritation, irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma; development of chronic bronchitis, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks and premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

“It’s definitely during the summer months that air quality is most top of mind,” said Susannah Fuchs, senior director of environmental health for the American Lung Association of the Plains-Gulf Region. “This is mainly because daily forecasts are underway. But as soon as temperatures cool, concerns over air quality seems to drop, and people no longer feel there’s a need to continue taking steps to reduce emissions. We want the public to know that their efforts to help improve air quality are essential 365 days a year and go a long way towards protecting the health of area residents.”

Driving less is one simple emissions-reducing action that residents can take. This can be accomplished by carpooling and vanpooling, using mass transit, walking and biking more and taking advantage of flex-time and telecommuting options. Air pollution can be further reduced by conserving energy at home and at work to reduce demands on power plants, planning trips to avoid idling in traffic tie-ups, avoiding the use of gas-powered yard equipment and snow blowers, limiting the use of wood-burning fireplaces and choosing not to burn leaves and other yard waste.

“Our hope is that air quality issues will be top of mind all the time, regardless of the temperature, and that the steps area residents are currently taking during the summertime to reduce emissions will become year-round efforts,” noted Fuchs.

A wealth of additional tips designed to help the region breathe easier throughout the year is available by visiting the St. Louis Regional Clean Air Partnership’s website at www.cleanair-stlouis.com. Area residents are also encouraged to “like” the organization on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @gatewaycleanair.