Health And Air Quality

by Daniel Brouse

Q: What causes the most illness in the United States?
A: Bad air quality

The leading causes of bad air quality are Particulate Matter, Ground Level Ozone, Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen Oxide (NOx).

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects an estimated 16.4 million adults and 7.0 million children in the United States, regardless of age, sex, race, or ethnicity.(1) Although the exact cause of asthma is unknown and it
cannot be cured, bad air quality is believed to be the main cause. In particular, low level ozone is causing an increase in asthma-like symptoms.(2) What many people believe are food allergies are just symptoms of respiratory and immune system damage caused by ozone.

Low level ozone (tropospheric ozone) is highly volatile and is created in large part due to vehicle emissions. “Ground level ozone is a serious problem in cities with lots of traffic, such as Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Houston and New York City. In 2013, according to the American Lung Association, nearly four in 10 people in the United States (38 percent) lived in areas with unhealthful levels of ozone.” (3) The use of ethanol in gasoline is causing a dramatic increase in low level ozone.(4)

The EPA monitors ozone levels and issues action alert days. “Action days are usually called when the AQI gets into the unhealthy ranges. Different air pollution control agencies call them at different levels. In some places, action days are called when the AQI is forecast to be Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, or Code Orange. In this case, the groups that are sensitive to the pollutant should reduce exposure by reducing prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors. For ozone this includes: children and adults who are active outdoors, and people with lung disease, such as asthma. For particle pollution this includes: people with heart or lung disease, older adults and children.”(5)

“When ozone levels are very high, everyone should be concerned about ozone exposure.”(6)

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2008)
2. “Although the data are inconsistent, some epidemiological studies suggest that long-term exposure to ozone could play a role in the development of asthma.” — EPA (2015)
3. National Resources Defense Counsel (2014)
4. Gasoline Plus Ethanol Equals Bad Ozone — The Membrane Domain (2009)
5. AirNow — EPA (2015)
6. Are you at risk from ground-level ozone? — EPA (2009)

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