The quality of our air is important to all of us. Pollution can have a direct impact on our environment, our quality of life, and our health. For those with respiratory concerns and health issues, poor air quality days can be exceptionally detrimental.
Back in 1970, the Clean Air Act was signed by Richard Nixon. The enactment resulted in a major shift in the federal government’s role in air pollution control, which authorized the development of comprehensive federal and state regulations to limit emissions from industrial and mobile sources.
Ever since the passage of that act, the air quality of the United States has significantly improved. However, there’s still a long way to go. Parts of our country still struggle with poor air quality, which has damaged ecosystems and created health problems for many.
“So, we know that air pollution, particularly particulate matter, and traffic-related air pollution are tied to the actual development of lung disease. So, children, for example, who are exposed to traffic-related air pollution are more likely to develop asthma over time. And it’s also associated with the development of emphysema and COPD,” said Dr. Julia Becker, a physician with Spectrum Health.
That is why in Michigan the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy and The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) work to monitor the air quality, which is used to notify the public about how polluted the air is. The notifications are then sent out by the National Weather Service. This information is reported as the Air Quality Index (AQI), which helps individuals make the best choices to stay safe while air pollutants are high. The AQI is calculated by taking into consideration the ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.
Motor vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents are responsible for the buildup of ground-level ozone, according to the NOAA. Particulate matter includes dust, dirt, soot, and smoke. Some of these particles are directly emitted into the air by cars, trucks, buses, factories, construction sites, and wood burning.
“Now ozone will develop if there are what we call precursors in the atmosphere. Precursors are different types of pollutants that are in the atmosphere. And during the day you get the sun's rays and the warmth, and the chemical reaction will occur. And when that happens, ground-level ozone develops. And, of course, ozone is great in the upper atmosphere and we need it there. But here at the ground, it can really cause some health issues and some concerns for people in our area,” explained Stephanie M. Hengesbach, a meteorologist with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s Air Quality Division.
Poor air quality can aggravate a list of health concerns. Pollution can cause chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, decreased lung function, coughing, painful breathing, cardiac problems, and heart attacks. In addition to our bodies, pollution can create serious environmental impacts on bodies of water and our atmosphere.
When an Air Quality Alert or Clean Air Action Day is issued, it is time to act!
If you have respiratory issues, it is best to limit your time outdoors. You’ll also want to limit your use of items that increase pollution. This can include adjusting the thermostat at home to reduce energy and turning off lights when not in use.
Do your best to limit gas-powered vehicles and equipment, including your lawnmower. Try switching to battery-powered lawn equipment during Clean Air Action Cays.
Decrease the use of your vehicle. You can suggest carpooling with your coworkers, working from home, or riding a bike to your destination.
If you must refuel your vehicle on a Clean Air Action Day, do so when it’s cooler. Refueling in the evening can prevent gas fumes from heating up and creating ozone.
Lastly, do not burn!
You might be wondering, what is a high AQI day? The AQI ranges on a scale from 0 to 500. The lower the number, the better the air quality. Below is the AQI value table. When the AQI (Air Quality Index) is greater than 100, the air is deemed unhealthy by the EPA and NOAA.
Helping our air quality begins with reducing, reusing, and recycling.
The more informed you can be about the air quality and the environment, the better! Stay tuned with the FOX 17 Weather Team for updates.
To learn more about clean air locally and what you can do as far as voluntary emission reduction activities, check out the West Michigan Clean Air Coalition (WMCAC). The WMCAC is a partnership of businesses, academic institutions, government agencies, industry, and nonprofit organizations in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon, and Kalamazoo counties working together to achieve cleaner air in the region through education and promotion of voluntary emission reduction activities.