June 17, 1999 DENVER - Ground-level ozone--created when sunlight and heat react with various chemicals found in air pollution--may rise to dangerous levels this summer for people with respiratory diseases. Ground-level ozone is most common in summer because volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides form ozone more quickly in the presence of heat and sunlight. VOCs are found in auto exhaust.
Ground-level ozone, a gas, can cause flares of asthma, chronic bronchitis and increased cardiorespiratory sickness. Symptoms may take days to appear following exposure.
“Your area may have a severe pollution day and you’re out in the thick of it, but it may not bother you until several days later when your asthma flares,” says Karin Pacheco, M.D., of the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at National Jewish Medical and Research Center.
Air pollution can increase symptoms in people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, allergies, emphysema and other lung diseases. For example, ground-level ozone can decrease lung function and cause chest tightness and cough.
Ground-level ozone and microscopic particulates, small enough to be breathed into the lungs and “sticky” enough to attract pollens and other allergens, can contribute to asthma and allergy attacks, and make other lung diseases more severe.
“There are a few things you can do to lower your risk,” Dr. Pacheco says. “Be aware of high pollution days, check the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and your local health department’s Web sites for air pollution levels, avoid congested areas where pollution sits, and get active in your community by promoting good public transportation, alternative fuels and carpooling.”
Cities with major highways and high-volume traffic often have the worst air pollution. “The biggest contributor to air pollution is car exhaust,” says Dr. Pacheco, adding, “Ground-level ozone pollution is usually the most severe during the hottest daytime hours on weekdays.”
Other culprits behind development of ground-level ozone include gas lawn mowers, over-filling a gas tank, which allows vapors to escape, leaking fuel and auto exhaust. Alternatives that cut pollution include using native plants for landscaping rather than a lawn, using an electric or push mower, limiting planting areas for lawns, and carpooling and public transportation.
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The Environmental Protection Agency’s Pollutant Standard Index Web site is located at http://www.epa.gov/oar/oaqps/psi.html.
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