07/11/10 — Heat, pollution can create breathing problems

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Heat, pollution can create breathing problems

By Aaron Moore
Published in News on July 11, 2010 1:50 AM

As the hot summer continues, people with heart problems and those susceptible to asthma attacks might have something else to worry about.

In addition to other health risks associated with long exposure to heat and sunlight are the problems that occur when too much heat and too much pollution come together, making it difficult to breathe.

The Division of Air Quality in the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources forecasts that the expected air quality in different parts of the state each day, based on a color code system, so that people will know how much risk they can expect to take by going outside each day.

However, for people who may not know what risks are associated with the different color alerts, spokesman Tom Mather, who works in the Public Information Office of the Division of Air Quality, provided a useful explanation.

The code runs from green to yellow to orange to red and finally, purple.

"Green is good, yellow is moderate and it's when we get to orange that people start being at risk," Mather said.

When an orange alert is issued, the air quality is not far from standard, but at-risk people such as the elderly, children, people with respiratory problems like asthma or emphysema or just anyone who plans to spend an extended time outdoors should take special care.

A code red, on the other hand, is unhealthy for everyone, Mather said, and people should avoid going outside for long periods of time if one is issued by the state Division of Air Quality.

Code purple is "really unhealthy," Mather said, and people should avoid going outside altogether.

Air quality can be affected by any number of pollutants, according to Mather, but this time of year the main problem is ground ozone that arises from a mix of pollutants being exposed to too much heat.

Mather explained that at the ground level ozone is a very reactive compound that can act as an irritant to skin and respiratory areas, increasing the risk of asthma attacks as well as sore throats and infections.

Due to the fact that ozone requires a great amount of heat and sunlight, Mather said, most alerts the Division of Air Quality sends out are for the afternoon, when it is hottest. If people need to do anything outdoors, he said, mornings should be no problem.

Though ozone is the major cause of poor air quality in North Carolina during the summer months, the Division of Air Quality also monitors other types of pollution throughout the year -- such as when small particles build up in the air over a long period of little to no wind. These stagnant conditions, Mather explained, prevent the pollutant particles from dispersing, and they create troublesome conditions for those with breathing problems or even heart attacks.

Although the Division of Air Quality does not forecast directly to Goldsboro, Mather said Wayne County residents should pay attention to Rocky Mount's forecasts if they want to get a general idea of the quality of their air.

The Division's forecasts can be viewed each day at www.ncair.org/airaware/ forecast.