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1 in 6 Americans live with dangerous air pollution: Do you?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The American Lung Association (ALA) just issued its 10th annual State of the Air report for 2009 yesterday. Use it to learn your county's air pollution ratings - they have an interactive air pollution map so you can click your state and drill down from there.

Or, if you're a city dweller like me, go straight to the city rankings - which are assessed by ozone levels, as well as short-term and year-round particle pollution. The overall findings are just scary - six in ten Americans live in areas where pollution has reached dangerous levels.

So what exactly is air pollution? Air becomes polluted when chemicals are introduced into the atmosphere that endangers humans and other living organisms. Overall, these chemicals and particles pair up to reduce the quality of air. Air pollution is usually categorized as ozone or particle pollution.

Ozone pollution is an increase in the concentration of ozone in the air at ground level. According to AirNOW, a multi-agency U.S. government program:

Ground-level ozone is formed when two types of pollutants react in the presence of sunlight. These pollutants are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen. They are found in emissions from:

* Vehicles such as automobiles, trucks, buses, aircraft, and locomotives * Construction equipment * Lawn and garden equipment * Sources that combust fuel, such as large industries and utilities * Small industries such as gas stations and print shops * Consumer products, including some paints and cleaners

Particle pollution is "a mixture of microscopic solids and liquid droplets suspended in air. This pollution, also known as particulate matter, is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, soil or dust particles, and allergens (such as fragments of pollen or mold spores)." Get details about health effects and prevention steps on AirNOW.

What are the health effects of air pollution? Air pollution causes both short- and long-term effects on people. Examples of short-term effects are irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, bronchitis and pneumonia; long-term effects include chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, and heart disease. And different people are affected by it in different ways.

The most vulnerable people are young children and the elderly, as well as people with health conditions like asthma and lung disease. According to Dr. Alan Greene, a respected pediatrician with an eye toward environmental health, children living in areas with high air pollution have higher rates of asthma and other lung diseases. In fact, New Zealand recently designated no child care zones to minimize childhood exposures to major sources of air pollution. What can you do to reduce pollution? Here are some steps you can take to cut your personal contribution to air pollution:

Drive less: This might not be the most obtainable goal for many (I am lucky to live car free in a city with great public transportation). But, if you have to drive, you can:

  • carpool,
  • telecommute,
  • trip chain (plan your trips so you don't have to take multiple ones to the same destinations),
  • maintain your car, tires and air filters,
  • use use fuel-efficient vehicles and
  • follow the speed limit.

Buy carefully:

  • Don't spray as much as possible
  • Minimize use of volatile organic compounds
  • Use electric lawn mowers
  • Start your barbecue with an electric probe.
  • When upgrading, buy energy efficient appliances and products
  • Don't waste

It's not always easy being green, but we all have to take the necessary steps to protect ourselves - and this beautiful planet we live on - from air pollution.


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