A recent report from the American Lung Association (ALA) found that smog and other forms of air pollution in the greater Washington area have worsened in recent years, creating a significant health risk for residents.
Between 2015 and 2017, the District of Columbia experienced an average of 4.7 high-ozone days per year, which occur when pollution levels become harmful and residents are encouraged to remain indoors. DC also saw an average of 14 moderate-risk days per year when pollution levels were high enough to impact at-risk populations, including children, the elderly and people with asthma. Overall, the increasing number of high and moderately high pollution days was enough to earn DC a grade of “F” for air quality by the ALA.
Smog levels fluctuate based on a variety of factors, although warmer temperatures due to climate change certainly play a role. Heat and sunlight interact with molecules in the air to create more ozone and cause additional pollution. Hot air also prevents ozone from rising, trapping pollution close to the ground where people are exposed to it. As we continue to see hotter days and record-breaking temperatures, it is likely that we will also experience more days with poor air quality.
Breathing polluted air has several short and long-term effects that are detrimental to our health. Smog exposure can cause coughing, headaches and irritation to the eyes, nose and throat. It also reduces lung function and can aggravate asthma symptoms, which are especially dangerous for anyone with a chronic respiratory condition or a respiratory infection such as the flu. Long-term exposure to air pollution may lead to permanent lung damage and has been associated with the development of asthma in children.
While it is difficult for any of us to address outdoor air quality on our own, we can take steps to improve the air we breathe indoors. Stay inside and shut the windows on days when air quality is poor. Limit your exposure to harsh chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are found in cleaning products, paint, wood varnishes and other household sources. Use an air-purifier and humidifier to remove allergens and other irritants from the air you breathe.
Kevin Arnold writes about health, wellness and travel. For more tips and information, check out all of his posts at www.pureroom.com/blog.