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Votes

Hold Your Breath?

Code Red Unhealthy for Breathers

August 7, 2002

<bt>An additional Code Red Day on Saturday, Aug. 3 was one more warning to county residents about unhealthy air quality.

Code Red isn’t the worst of the air quality situation.

Code Purple, the air quality in the region this summer on June 25 and July 2, is a new low in air quality, the level beyond Code Red.

Montgomery County provides free bus service on Ride On buses and Metrobuses on days forecast to be Code Red days. The Code Red Ride Free program is part of the local Ozone Action Days program under which the County takes voluntary actions to reduce the emissions of smog-forming chemicals. Other examples include refueling County vehicles after dusk, curtailing center-line painting, median strip spraying and mowing, and asphalt paving.

Citizens can reduce their impact on air quality by carpooling, telecommuting or taking mass transit to work. Other actions which can help include driving less, combining trips, refueling after dark, postponing lawn and garden chores that use gas-powered equipment, waiting for a cooler day to use oil-based paints, postponing the use of aerosols and household products that contain solvents, bringing lunch to work so car trips around noon are unnecessary.

On summer days, the use of gas-powered lawn and garden equipment releases more than 100 times the pollution of a typical large industrial plant. For every person who postpones lawn mowing on ozone action days, potential reduction in pollution equals the amount generated by a car driving from Baltimore to Hartford, Conn.

At Code Red, the air is deemed "unhealthy," meaning everyone may begin to experience health effects, according the EPA.

AT CODE PURPLE pollution levels, the air is "very unhealthy," and the high level of pollution in the air triggers a health alert, meaning everyone may experience more serious health effects. The EPA advises that on a Code Purple day, active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid all outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit outdoor exertion.

The primary causes of air pollution in Montgomery County are vehicle emissions and pollution from power plants to the west. The region is also at risk for losing millions of dollars in federal funds for road construction unless local officials find some way to reduce air pollution. The Metropolitan Council of Governments reported that the high number of SUVs in the area are a contributing factor.

Residents of Montgomery County are among millions of people in this country who live in areas where air pollution poses serious health threats.

CONSIDER THE RISKS:

* One out of every three people is at a higher risk of experiencing ozone related health effects, including active, otherwise healthy children who spend a lot of the summer playing outdoors.

* People of all ages who are active outdoors are at increased risk because during physical activity, ozone penetrates deeper into the part of the lungs that are more vulnerable.

* Ozone can aggravate asthma. When ozone levels are high more people with asthma have attacks that require a doctor’s attention or the use of additional medication. One reason this happens is that ozone makes people more sensitive to allergens, the most common triggers of asthma attacks.

* People with respiratory diseases that make their lungs more vulnerable to ozone may experience health effects earlier and at lower ozone levels than less sensitive individuals.

* Ozone can irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing, throat irritation, and/or an uncomfortable sensation in the chest.

* Ozone can increase susceptibility to respiratory infections.

* Ozone can inflame and damage the lining of the lungs. Within a few days, the damaged cells are shed and replaced—much like the skin peels after a sunburn. Animal studies suggest that if this type of inflammation happens repeatedly over a long time period (months, years, a lifetime), lung tissue may become permanently scarred, resulting in less lung elasticity, permanent loss of lung function.

For more information, see www.epa.gov/airnow, or visit www.askDEP.com, the County's Department of Environmental Protection.

What Is Ozone?

<lst>Ozone is an odorless, colorless gas that forms in the atmosphere. Ground-level ozone is an air pollutant that damages human health, vegetation and many common materials; it is also the key ingredient of urban smog.

Repeated exposure to ground-level ozone may cause permanent damage to the lungs. Inhaling ozone may trigger a variety of health problems, including chest pains, coughing, nausea, throat irritation and congestion; it can also worsen bronchitis, heart disease, emphysema and asthma and reduce long capacity. Residents most at-risk from exposure to ground-level ozone — asthmatics and people with other medical conditions, children, outdoor workers and the elderly — are advised to limit outdoor activity on Code Red Days.

Ground level ozone is caused when strong sunlight reacts with pollutants from a variety of sources, such as the fumes from motor vehicles, lawn mowers, boats, or emissions from power plants and industrial facilities. Ground level ozone is one pollution problem driven as much by individuals as industry. Cars account for 30 to 40 percent of the pollutants that cause ozone in the Baltimore/Washington area.

<ro>Color Guide

<lst>GREEN (AQI 0-50) "Good" Air quality is considered satisfactory and air pollution poses little or no risk.

YELLOW (AQI 51-100) "Moderate" Air quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of individuals. For example, people who are unusually sensitive to ozone may experience respiratory symptoms.

ORANGE (AQI 101-150) "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups" Certain groups of people are particularly sensitive to the harmful effects of certain air pollutants. For example, children and adults who are active outdoors and people with respiratory disease are at greater risk from exposure to ozone, while people with heart disease are at greater risk from carbon monoxide. When AQI values are between 101 and 150, members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected when the AQI is in this range.

RED AQI 151-200 "Unhealthy" Everyone may begin to experience health effects. Members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects. Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

PURPLE 201-300 "Very Unhealthy" AQI values between 201 and 300 trigger a health alert, meaning everyone may experience more serious health effects. Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid all outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit outdoor exertion.

MAROON 301-500 "Hazardous" AQI values over 300 trigger health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.

<ro>Code Purple, the air quality rating on June 25 and July 2, is the level beyond Code Red.