It’s a hot one in New York City, but it’s not the temperature that keeps Sweet William and me indoors. It’s the air quality. Today’s Air Quality Index forecast for New York City is 147, “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.” (Check the Index for your location here.)
William’s status as an active young child qualifies him as sensitive; I am sensitive as an asthmatic and an expectant mother.
Air Quality is affected by ozone and particle pollution:
Ozone in the upper atmosphere is good; it shields the Earth from the sun’s UV rays. Ozone at ground-level is bad; it harms human health. It makes breathing difficult, aggravates lung diseases, makes lungs more susceptible to infection, and increases the frequency of asthma attacks.
Ground-level ozone is produced when VOCs and oxides of nitrogen react in the presence of sunlight. VOCs and oxides of nitrogen come from vehicle exhaust, construction equipment, lawn equipment, industrial fuel combustion, and consumer products such as paints and cleaners. Ozone is a major part of urban smog, but it can be transported by the wind and it affects rural areas, too.
What can we do? Conserve energy at every opportunity. Use public transportation. Combine errands to reduce driving. Walk or bike when air quality is healthy.
Particles in the air are a mixture of solids and liquids. Those less than 10 micrometers in diameter pose a threat to our health because they pass through the nose and throat and get deep into the lungs. They aggravate heart diseases (they are associated with cardiac arrhythmia and heart attacks) and lung diseases (causing respiratory discomfort and leading to increased medication use and doctor visits). Larger particles will irritate the eyes, nose and throat.
Particles under 2.5 micrometers — fine particles — are produced when coal, oil, diesel and wood are burned. Particles up to 10 micrometers are produced during crushing or grinding, including driving on paved or unpaved roads. When particle levels are high outdoors, they can also be high indoors.
What can we do? Again, conserve energy at every opportunity. Eliminate tobacco smoke and reduce your use of candles and fireplaces. Avoid gas-powered lawn equipment.