Bad air quality is a serious health threat both for short and long-term issues. Bad air can irritate your eyes, skin, and cause respiratory discomfort, especially if you have asthma. Long term exposure to bad air quality can reduce your lung function and increase your risk of lung cancer, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In small children, bad air quality can affect the growth and function of their lungs. There are over 200 kinds of toxic air pollutants, but the six most common are categorized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as follows:
- Particulate Matter: This form of air pollution is created by solids such as dust, dirt, smoke, and soot combining with water in the air. Particulate matter can be visible or invisible in the air.
- Ozone: This gas is the main ingredient in smog. When it is in the upper atmosphere, it protects us from harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. At ground level, ozone is dangerous to breathe and can exacerbate health problems like asthma. Ground-level ozone is created by reactions between pollutants from cars and industrial facilities in the presence of sunlight.
- Carbon Monoxide: Produced by burning fuels, carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen carried in the bloodstream causing headaches, dizziness, confusion, and weakness. Breathing large amounts of carbon monoxide is lethal and this gas is especially dangerous because it is colorless and has no odor.
- Lead: This toxic heavy metal is associated more with its solid form and use in paint and other household materials. However, lead can also be released into the air via aircraft fuels, and metal and ore processing.
- Nitrogen Dioxide: Burning fossil fuels at high temperatures forms nitrogen dioxide, a gas found in both ozone and particle pollution. Indoor air quality can be affected by nitrogen dioxide when wood or natural gas is burned.
- Sulfur Dioxide: Sulfur dioxide is released into the air by burning coal, oil, and diesel fuels. Air near coal plants or shipping ports can be polluted with higher amounts of sulfur dioxide.
How Do I Know if I Have Bad Air Quality?
Air quality is closely monitored by the EPA using a system of more than a thousand stations across the country each with highly sensitive equipment to measure levels of specific pollutants (ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.) The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a numbered system that indicates how much pollution is in the air on any given day. The AQI categories are as follows:
- Good – 0 to 50
- Moderate – 51 to 100
- Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups – 101 to 150
- Unhealthy – 151 to 200
- Very Unhealthy – 201 to 300
- Hazardous – 301 to 500
Who is Most at Risk for Problems Associated with Bad Air Quality?
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that seven million people around the world die each year from air pollution. Certain groups of people are more affected than others by breathing polluted air. Children are more sensitive to bad air quality because they breathe faster, have narrower air passages, and spend more time outdoors. As a group, children also have higher rates of asthma and respiratory illnesses, and are much more affected by air pollution. Complications from air pollution can make the lungs more susceptible to infection and increase the frequency of asthma attacks.
Seniors are another group that is more affected by bad air quality. They are more likely to suffer from heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes, all of which can be aggravated by air pollution. Having diabetes increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. Airborne particles can worsen bronchitis, bring on heart attacks and strokes, and even lead to early death.
Anyone who exercises regularly outdoors can also be adversely affected by poor air quality because they are breathing faster and more deeply during that exposure. It is possible to lessen your risk to certain pollutants such as ozone by scheduling exercise sessions in the morning or evening when ozone concentrations are at their lowest.
Low-income communities and communities of color have historically been situated in areas closest to highways and industrial complexes. The people in these communities experience a disproportionately higher amount of exposure to the negative effects of air pollution than white and wealthier communities.
How Can I Protect Myself from Air Pollution?
While no one has complete control over the air in their surroundings, there are steps you can take to limit your exposure to air pollution. The number one thing you can do is stay informed about the air quality in your area through information provided by the EPA, the National Weather Service (NWS), and your local media. When air quality is forecast to be bad you can:
- Limit your time outdoors or move activities inside.
- Reschedule strenuous activities or choose a less strenuous activity.
- Schedule activities for the morning when air quality is usually the best.
- Take more breaks if you must do outdoor activities.
In general, it is always best to exercise away from busy roads if possible.
Everyone can do their part to reduce air pollution and improve the air quality in their neighborhood or region by taking these steps:
- Drive less and choosing to carpool, walk, bike, or use more public transportation.
- Keep car or boat engines tuned and maintained.
- Check that your tires are inflated to the correct pressure.
- Stop smoking tobacco.
- Cut down on use of wood burning stoves and fireplaces.
- Do not burn garbage or leaves.
- Save energy by choosing energy saving appliances, turning off lights when not in use, and setting thermostats higher in summer and lower in winter.
- Use air cleaners with HEPA filters.
Warren Environmental Lawyers at Herold Law Fight for Those Exposed to Environmental Toxins
If you or someone you love is suffering from an illness caused by exposure to environmental toxins, contact the knowledgeable Warren environmental lawyers at Herold Law. We can help you determine the best legal path. Call 908-647-1022 to schedule an initial consultation or contact us online. From our offices in Warren, New Jersey we represent clients throughout the surrounding areas including Plainfield.