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Fri May 23, 2014
Air Quality - The Connection
SciWorks Radio is a production of 88.5 WFDD and SciWorks, the Science Center and Environmental Park of Forsyth County, located in Winston-Salem.
We all know well by now that our smallest actions can have a consequence on the environment. While we often think of long term effects on climate, many of us overlook the immediate local impact. In this second Earth Day series installment of SciWorks Radio, we spoke with Lorelei Elkins, Program Coordinator at Triad Air Awareness, based in the Forsyth County Office of Environmental Assistance and Protection.
Everything we do, from the time we wake up the morning to the time we go to sleep has an impact on the environment. Nobody’s asking for these massive changes to our lifestyle to help improve the environment. It's just the little things. You know, do I toss this cup in the recycling bin or do I toss it in the trash? How many times you leave the light on in your room? do you let the water run? Do you take 45 minute shower rather than a five-minute shower? How do you do your shopping? There’s so many different things Go shopping a bulk better than buying things that are ridiculously wrapped and using a lot of resources. One of the things that is recommended to reduce your environmental footprint is to plan your trips. Sit down and look at where you need to be throughout the week, and what is the most efficient way to get there? Not only is it going to improve our air quality, but it will also save you some money.
If I leave the light on it only costs a few pennies. There’s room in the trash for another paper cup. There seem to be few incentives to take action, and we often fail to connect the dots, but the connections are closer than you think.
When it comes down to it, when you reduce your energy consumption whether it's through the products you buy or your personal behaviors at home you're using less fuel. You’re improving the environment. And that energy consumption can be electricity based. It can be the fuel in your vehicle. It can be recycling things or purchasing products that are made from recycled materials. Any time you participate in an action or behavior that results in you using less energy it’s a win for everybody.
There are many reasons to decrease fuel consumption, and one of them is the quality of the air we breathe
The two types of air pollution that we need to be concerned with in the Triad are ground-level ozone and particle pollution. Ground level ozone is basically the same ozone that’s in the stratosphere that protects us from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. When it forms at ground-level it's due to human activity. The other type of pollution that we need to be concerned with in this area is particle pollution , and that is fine particle pollution 2.5 microns and smaller. And that's emitted directly into the atmosphere and it can cause some health issues; heart attack and stroke in older people. The fine particle sources are about the same as the sources for the ground level ozone. The difference between the two is that the precursors to ozone are emitted into the atmosphere, but then they have to cook together in the presence of heat and sunlight for the ground level ozone to form. Which is why ground level ozone is a summertime air pollutant. It has some pretty serious health impacts. People who are perfectly healthy who tend to be active outside like athletes, outdoor workers and soccer coaches or whoever, might be breathing in those those summertime air pollutants. On a healthy person if we reach our air quality index of code Orange ,which is the code where we consider it an alert day, they might get a burning and stinging in their eyes, a tightness in chest, or maybe even a little bit out of breath where they typically would not be. On sensitive populations it will affect pregnant women and children who are still growing and developing. It can impact their lung function anybody with COPD or anybody with a heart or lung disease. Of course it would impact someone who has asthma much greater. It would be a good idea to carry their inhaler with them and just take it easy outside when the air quality levels are high. The long-term effects of air pollution show themselves in reduced lung function. You do have a greater chance of developing asthma if you're outside in polluted air a lot.
So, how much should we worry?
We know there’s a problem in this area. It’s not as bad as some areas. We don’t have those long-term poor air-quality episodes like a lot of other areas do. But it still has an impact we see an increase in hospital visits when the air quality is poor, and asthma is still the number one reason why kids miss School. A lot of research points to the fact that it's our air quality.
(Click here to check out the current national air quality map and learn how air quality levels are classified.)