2010 March 11: WI Madison: Explaining Dane County’s air quality alerts
Post by Laura Detert on 3/11/2010 1:03pm
Yesterday, Wisconsin had the dubious honor of having the unhealthiest air in the U.S. after four days of air advisories issued by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources indicating health risks for many residents.
The air advisories were issued because of elevated levels of particulate matter, a type of air pollution caused when tiny particles such as sulfates, dust, and pollen are suspended in the air. Heavy fog and low winds, the type of weather found in Dane County for the last week, help suspend the particles in the air and allow them to be inhaled.
The small size of the particles (less than 10 microns in size, or less than 30 times the width of a human hair) allows them to get deep into the lungs and bloodstream when inhaled, causing health problems such as asthma attacks and acute bronchitis after even short periods of exposure. For those with heart disease, short-term exposure can cause heart attacks and arrhythmia.
What causes particulate matter pollution? For the most part, the cause is combustion sources like coal power plants, factories, vehicle exhaust, and burning firewood. People can help reduce the amount of particulate matter on air advisory days by:
- Combining car trips
- Riding the bus
- Avoiding burning leaves or firewood
- Avoiding using gas-powered lawn equipment
Even healthy people may have eye, nose and throat irritation, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath on days with high particulate pollution. Runners or others exercising outside may want to cut back on strenuous workouts, especially around busy roads, to help reduce the volume of air inhaled. Children, the elderly and those with lung disease and asthma should be the most cautious of pollution symptoms on air advisory days.
To keep updated on local air quality, daily updates can be found by calling the Daily Air Quality Hotline 866-324-5924 (1-866-DAILY AIR) or online through the U.S. EPA’s daily air quality map AIRNow.
An air quality watch will remain in effect for Dane County until 11 p.m. Thursday.
(photo by James Jordan on Flickr)
Comment viewing options
Submitted by Lisa MacKinnon, Dane County Clean Air Coalition Coordinator (not verified) on Thu, 2010-03-11 13:35.
Thanks, Laura, for providing information to folks about our unhealthy air pollution situation in Dane County this week. Readers should also check out the Dane County Clean Air Coalition’s Website for tools and information you can use to stay aware and do your share for healthy air in Dane County.You can also contact me–
firstname.lastname@example.org — if you’d like to be on our email list for Clean Air Action Day alerts in Dane Co. Those are called when DNR issues a watch roughly 24 hours ahead of a potential air pollution event. The alert allows Dane Co residents to plan ahead to take voluntary actions to reduce their emissions. Thankfully, this weather pattern seems to be subsiding now and lower emission levels are beginning to return. For Healthy Air, Lisa
Submitted by Jesse Russell on Thu, 2010-03-11 13:46.
I thought I knew what the air quality alerts were all about, but after reading this I now know I didn’t. Thanks, Laura!
Submitted by Doug D (not verified) on Thu, 2010-03-11 15:24.
We also deal with this pretty regularly out in the Bay Area, where the emphasis tends to be on refraining from using wood-burning stoves or fireplaces on certain days. The Spare the Air website has a lot of good information: http://www.sparetheair.org/
Submitted by Laura Detert on Thu, 2010-03-11 15:24.
Our nation’s best and brightest nanotechnology experts inform me that there is a typo above. It is supposed to be "30 times smaller than the width of a human hair". As written would mean inhaling particles the size of Grape Nuts, and that would be a public health problem on another scale.