Coming on the heels of Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial start of summer, the bi-state St. Louis region has experienced a string of poor air quality days and record-setting temperatures this week, with more 90°+ days on the horizon. Having already experienced more “orange” days earlier in the ozone season than in years past, the importance of keeping the region’s air clean is at an all-time high as weather conditions continue to play a significant role in our region’s daily air quality.
Ozone is created when heat and sunlight react with nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are emitted from motor vehicles, industrial facilities, gasoline vapors, chemical solvents and dozens of other sources. Ozone gas is a powerful lung irritant that reacts with the delicate lining of the airways once inhaled, causing inflammation and other damage that can impact multiple body systems.
“When ozone levels are high, many people experience breathing problems that can be felt right away,” said Susannah Fuchs, Director of Clean Air for the American Lung Association in Missouri. “Very simply put, it’s kind of like a sunburn on your lungs.”
Immediate problems include shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, increased risk of respiratory infections, increased susceptibility to pulmonary inflammation, and increased need for people with lung diseases like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), to receive medical treatment or go to the hospital. Studies also show that long-term exposure to ozone pollution may increase the risk of premature death, even in some cases for healthy young adults.
With that in mind, there are a number of things individuals can do to minimize exposure to ozone pollution to help them breathe easier. The Clean Air Partnership releases daily air quality forecasts to let residents know what the air quality will be during the prime of summer. Signing up to receive the color-coded forecast at CleanAir-StLouis.com helps to ensure St. Louisans know what the next day’s air quality is forecast to be and if they should take precaution by altering their outdoor activities to avoid being exposed to polluted air, particularly on orange or red “ozone action days.” These warnings are especially important for sensitive populations, including children and teens, anyone 65 or older, people who work or exercise outdoors, and those with existing lung or cardiovascular diseases.
Additionally, given that transportation-related emissions have always been one of the biggest contributors to air pollution, the Partnership encourages locals to take action for cleaner air by choosing not to idle your vehicles, avoiding topping off your gas tank, telecommuting, and combining errands into a single trip. Carpooling, ridesharing and taking transit can also greatly impact the amount of ozone-forming emissions on any given day and improve lung health overall.
To access a wealth of information and additional tips to help clear the air and protect human health during the peak of ozone season, visit the Clean Air Partnership’s website, like us on Facebook or follow @gatewaycleanair on Twitter.