Ground-level ozone and particle pollution are the two major threats to air quality in the United States. Breathing in these pollutants can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly, and people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma.
Due to federal regulations like the Clean Air Act and voluntary activities, the United States has far less of both pollutants now than in the past. Still, air quality monitoring shows that millions of American still live in areas where the standard for these pollutants are exceeded.
Below you will find more information on the two major types of air pollution, ways to improve air quality in our community and other helpful resources.
Ozone can be “good” or “bad” for your health and the environment, depending on its location in the atmosphere.
The ozone layer found high in the upper atmosphere (the stratosphere) shields us from much of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. However, ozone air pollution at ground level where we can breathe it (in the troposphere) causes serious health problems and make it difficult to breathe.
Ground level or “bad” ozone develops in the atmosphere from gases that come out of motor vehicle tailpipes, smokestacks and many other sources. When these gases, known as volatile organic compounds (VOC) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx), come in contact with sunlight, they react and form ozone or “smog.” Many urban and suburban areas throughout the United States have high levels of “bad” ozone throughout the summer months.
Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. “Bad” ozone also can reduce lung function and inflame the linings of the lungs. Long-term exposure may permanently scar lung tissue and lead to cardiovascular disease and premature death.
Anyone who spends time outdoors where ozone pollution levels are high may be at risk for respiratory harm, but some people are especially vulnerable to the effects of breathing ozone, including:
- children and teens;
- anyone 65 and older;
- people who work or exercise outdoors;
- people with existing lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (also known as COPD, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis); and
- people with cardiovascular disease.
Particulate Matter (PM)
Particulate matter, also known as particle pollution or PM, is the term for a mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets found in the air.
These particles come in many sizes and shapes and can be made up of hundreds of different chemicals. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye. Others are so small they can only be detected using an electron microscope.
Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects.The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Small particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems, because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream. But no matter what the size, particles can harm your health.
Anyone who lives where particle pollution levels are high is at risk. Some people face higher risk, however, including:
- infants, children and teens;
- people over 65 years of age;
- people with lung disease such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema;
- people with heart disease or diabetes; and
- people who work or are active outdoors.
Reducing Air Pollution
Regulations have been put in place at the federal, state and local level to reduce pollution and cut NOx and VOC emissions from vehicles, industrial facilities, and electric utilities. Voluntary programs also encourage communities to adopt practices, such as carpooling and no idling zones, to reduce harmful emissions.
You can do your part by doing the following:
- Check the air quality forecast in your area. At times when the Air Quality Index (AQI) is forecast to be unhealthy, limit physical exertion outdoors. Choose easier outdoor activities (like walking instead of running) so you don’t breathe as hard. For AQI forecasts,check your local media reports or sign up for alerts with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
- Conserve energy at home and the office. Consider setting your thermostat a little higher in the summer. Turn off lights and unplug electric devices when not in use. Participate in your local utilities’ load-sharing and energy conservation programs.
- Reduce air pollution from cars, trucks, gas-powered lawn and garden equipment, boats and other engines by keeping equipment properly tuned and maintained. During the summer, fill your gas tank during the cooler evening hours and be careful not to spill gasoline. Reduce driving, carpool, use public transportation, walk, or bicycle to reduce ozone pollution, especially on hot summer days.
- Use household and garden chemicals wisely. Use low VOC paint and solvents. Be sure to read labels for proper use and disposal.
Below are links to videos and publications regarding air pollution.
Clean Air Force: Ozone Action Day
Clean Air Force: Bike/Walk to Work