2010 Feb. 5: IL Chicago: Air quality alert issued for Chicago area ( 2 articles)

2010 Feb. 5: IL Chicago: Air quality alert issued for Chicago area ( 2 articles)

James | 5 February 2010, 8:10 am
CHICAGO  — There’s something in the air, and it’s making Chicagoans sick.
As CBS 2’s Pamela Jones reports, the National Weather Service has issued an air quality alert through the day Thursday. It means you may have to limit your time outdoors.
The problem is tiny particles, smaller than the width of one human hair. And it could put the health of people in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin at risk.
“It is pretty rare. Normally we hear about air pollution action days in the summer, but in the winter time there can be higher levels of particulate matter in the air, and the cold weather can cause that,” said Katie Lorenz of the American Lung Association.
Some people say they’re already noticing changes in the air. Kelly Helling walks to and from her job in downtown Chicago every day. But today, she noticed it was harder for her to breathe.
“Yeah, the past couple of days, it seems like it kind of could have been something in the air,” Helling said.
The National Weather Service says higher pollution levels may be why.
It’s prompted the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to issue an air quality alert – warning people that outdoor activities like brisk walking and running could make them sick.
But why are pollution levels suddenly higher?
“It’s a factor of largely weather and what we put out every day,” said Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs for the Respiratory Health Association of Greater Chicago.
Every day, dangerous fine particulate matter is pumped into the air by cars, trucks, coal-fired power plants, and factories. But on most days, we have wind or rain that moves the pollution away and spreads it out, so it doesn’t stay concentrated at unhealthy levels, Urbaszewksi said.
Right now, the weather is not cooperating to protect us.
“What’s happening now is we have a high-pressure system, which basically means that the air is sinking so that all the population is being compressed into the ground and concentrated, and we don’t have any winds today,” Urbaszewski said.
“So we’re being forced, essentially, to breathe what we produced.”
So will people be able to heed those warnings?
“Well, I work a lot, so between working and then going home afterwards, I’ll probably just stick to working out inside the gym then instead of going outside, which is unfortunate,” Helling said.
There are three main chemical categories that most fine particulate matter falls into, Urbasewzki said. Carbon particles can come from sources such as diesel exhaust.
Sulfate particles can come from coal-fired power plants, because the sulfur generate by the combustion of the coal comes out of the plants’ chimneys to the tune of thousands of tons per year.
Finally, nitrate particles form from nitrogen oxides that come out of cars, trucks, power plants, furnaces and other sources.
However, Urbaszewski said: “It’s not necessarily what makes up the fine particle. It’s the size of the particle that makes it dangerous.”
Each particle is less than 2.5 millionths of a meter in diameter. By comparison, a human hair is about 80 to 100 millionths of a meter across, Urbaszewski said.
Such tiny particles in the air could pose a lot of problems, especially for those with illnesses like asthma or allergies. Doctors say people shouldn’t ignore the symptoms.
Dr. Lindsey Buswell-Cleary of Michigan Avenue Immediate Care says to see the doctor “if you’re having trouble breathing, if you feel like your chest is tight, you can’t fully take a deep breath or you’re having a cough that’s just persistent.”
The Illinois EPA suggests that people try to cut down on pollution during these action days, by carpooling or taking public transportation. And if you have to drive, try running errands in the evening.
For more information, click the links below.

CBS 2 Web Producer Adam Harrington contributed to this report.
Read the original article from WBBM News Radio


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