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Bad air can make you feel bad, too

POSTED: June 21, 2009 10:48 p.m.


If you’re having trouble breathing in the summer, it’s not just the heat that’s stifling you.

A toxic concoction of particles, sulphur dioxide, lead, carbon monoxide and ozone are some of many pollutants in the air that make it more difficult for children, the elderly and people with respiratory issues to enjoy a lazy summer day outdoors.

Susan Zimmer-Dauphinee, manager of the Department of Natural Resource’s Ambient Air Monitoring Program, said pollutants are in the air year-round, but summer’s intense sunlight triggers chemicals in smog that make it more difficult for people to breathe.

“Cars and factories put out the ingredients for ozone and sunlight drives that chemical reaction,” Zimmer-Dauphinee said. “There’s a fairly large population in Hall County that helps to produce the ozone by driving in their vehicles. The Atlanta area also has an effect on Hall County.”

Ozone is just one pollutant that can irritate asthmatics, bringing on an asthma attack, or induce a heart attack for people with heart conditions, she said.

Zimmer-Dauphinee said also the Hall County area, along with most of Atlanta, does not meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for air quality.

Flowery Branch resident Sandra Camper said she definitely notices how air quality decreases in the summer.

Camper developed asthma in the late 1990s and is careful not to go outside on days when the Department of Natural Resources declares air quality “code red” or worse.

“I can step outside and notice in a few minutes just the tightness in my chest and there’s almost a metallic taste in my mouth,” she said. “It’s almost a clamp around me and I can’t breathe.”

David Paris, an exercise physiologist at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, said the ground level ozone reacts with lung tissue and can cause severe inflammation of lung tissue. People with asthma, allergies, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and even cardiovascular diseases can be affected by summertime smog, he said.

Paris said small children, whose breathing passages are smaller than adults’, often are affected by summertime smog, especially since they tend to be outdoors more in the summer.

The American Lung Association conducted a study recently which shows that as many as 27.1 million children age 13 and younger, and more than 1.9 million children with asthma, are potentially exposed to unhealthful levels of ozone.

“If you live in an area like that, it’s almost as bad as being a smoker,” he said. “... The truth of it is, you probably shouldn’t go out on a day when there’s a smog alert, especially in the hottest part of the day.”

Paris said workers in Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s pulmonary and cardiac rehabilitation clinic are starting to see people who didn’t smoke who have problems as if they did smoke.

“There’s some possibility that has something to do with air quality,” he said.

Camper said from her experience, poor air quality is pervasive throughout Hall County, but once she drives north of Hall near the mountains, she feels the air is cleaner.

On code red days, Camper said she’s learned to stay out of the afternoon heat to avoid an asthma attack.

“If I was going to run errands that afternoon and was going to be in and out of my car, I might postpone that,” she said. “And if we wanted to go for an evening walk or have a cook out, we just don’t do that.”

Camper said she’s learning to adapt her schedule to the “nuisance” of poor air quality, but calls it a “by product of the modern conveniences of transport.”

Paris and Zimmer-Dauphinee said because they don’t want to discourage people from going outdoors, they do want to encourage people with breathing issues to be smart about when and where they go outdoors.

Zimmer-Dauphinee said it’s best to exercise away from congested roadways. She said after 6 p.m. is a safer time to exercise because sunlight begins to diminish at that point in the summer day.

It’s also better to fuel your car after 6 p.m. to avoid ingesting toxic fumes during the heat of the day which could set off breathing problems, she said.


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