The EPA has issued an ozone “Orange” air quality warning for Milwaukee and southeast Wisconsin for today, Monday, July 21. The ozone air quality index is predicted to be in the 101-150 range, indicating the air quality conditions are Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.
Ozone is in the air we breathe. “Good” ozone is present naturally in the upper atmosphere and protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. The “Bad” ozone – ozone pollution – is at ground level. It’s created when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, and chemical plants react chemically in sunlight. Ozone pollution is more likely in warmer months, when there is lots of sunlight.
Who is at risk?
Several groups of people are particularly sensitive to ozone, especially when they are active outdoors:
- People with lung diseases, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema, can be particularly sensitive to ozone, and will experience more serious health effects at lower levels. Ozone pollution can leading to increased medication use, doctor and emergency room visits, and hospital admissions.
- Children are at higher risk from ozone exposure because their lungs are still developing, they are more likely to have asthma, and often play outdoors in summer when ozone levels are elevated.
- Older adults may be more affected by ozone levels, particularly if they have pre-existing lung disease.
- Active people of all ages who exercise or work vigorously outdoors are at increased risk.
- Some healthy people are more sensitive to ozone, without the factors above, suggesting a genetic basis for this increased sensitivity.
What are the health effects of higher ozone levels?
- Irritation of the respiratory system, causing coughing, throat soreness, airway irritation, chest tightness, or chest pain when taking a deep breath.
- Reduced lung function, making it more difficult to breathe and leading to more rapid and shallow breaths than normal.
- Inflammation and damage to the cells that line the lungs, particularly with repeated exposure. Lung tissue may become permanently scarred and lung function may be permanently reduced. The lungs may also be more susceptible to infection.
- Aggravation of asthma. Ozone makes people more sensitive to allergens, the most common triggers for asthma attacks. In addition, asthmatics may also have reduced lung function and airway inflammation.
- Elevated ozone can aggravate other chronic lung diseases, such as emphysema and bronchitis.
- And permanent lung damage. Repeated short-term ozone damage to children’s developing lungs may lead to reduced lung function in adulthood. In adults, ozone exposure may accelerate the natural decline in lung function that occurs with age.
What you can do to remain safe
There are two important factors to consider to avoid being exposed to unhealthy air during times of increased pollution:
Minimize Prolonged Exertion -- any outdoor activity that you’ll be doing off-and-on for several hours and that makes you breathe slightly harder than normal.
Minimize Heavy Exertion -- intense outdoor activities that cause you to breathe hard. It is very important to reduce your activity level if you experience any unusual coughing, chest discomfort, wheezing, breathing difficulty, or unusual fatigue.
How can I find the forecasted AQI?
The EPA AIRNow web site provides national air quality information, with links to detailed state and local air quality sites. You can access the Milwaukee Air Quality information here, and DRN real-time state monitoring here.
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