Ozone pollution, caused by persistent heat this week, may create health risks

July 29, 2009

By Staff

NEW — 2:20 p.m. July 28, 2009

Persistent high temperatures are raising ozone pollution in the greater-Seattle area and increasing health risks for sensitive populations, including children, teens, the elderly, people living with COPD, asthma or other lung disease, and people who work outdoors.

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency announced today that air quality is expected to reach the “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups,” or orange category, for some locations in King County. The American Lung Association in Washington is asking residents to take precautions and limit their exposure to unhealthy levels of air pollution.

“While certain segments of the population are more prone to illnesses related to high ozone pollution, all individuals may be at risk, especially when levels reach the orange category,” said Astrid Berg, executive director of the American Lung Association in Washington. “Even low ozone levels can trigger health problems in some people, including chest pains, coughing, nausea, throat irritation and congestion.”

Ozone pollution increases in hot weather when sunlight mixes with gasoline vapors, chemical solvents and exhaust from cars, making the hottest part of the day the unhealthiest.

People can take these steps to protect themselves from unhealthy ozone levels:

  • Limit outdoor activity.
  • Exercise early in the morning or indoors.
  • Pay attention to respiratory symptoms, such as coughing and wheezing, and see your doctor if necessary.

Breathing in ozone is like having a sunburn on your lungs. When ozone is inhaled, lungs become inflamed or swollen. Breathing ozone can cause coughing and asthma attacks and send people to the emergency room. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 10 percent to 20 percent of all summertime respiratory-related hospital visits in some areas of the U.S. are associated with ozone pollution. Ozone exposure can even shorten life.

People can help reduce ozone levels by driving less or carpooling, turning off lights and limiting use of gas-powered yard equipment to morning and evening.

Air quality alerts are provided through the American Lung Association in Washington’s Breathe Easy Network. Sign up for free e-mail alerts here. Learn more about the air quality in your area here.

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