This is Air Quality Awareness Week, a great time to learn how air quality affects your health. Topics for this week, which runs May 1-5, include:
- asthma and air quality
- air quality trends
- air quality around the world
- citizen science
Wildfires cause major air quality issues as they emit harmful gases and particles. Wildfire smoke can travel thousands of miles. The South Atlantic region, including the Carolinas, experiences the most wildfires, about three times the national average. South Carolina Forestry Commission firefighters respond to about 3,000 wildfires annually. In October 2016, a series of wildfires began in the Southern Appalachians, and continued into early December.
To protect your health during a wildfire stay indoors with windows closed, put air conditioners on “recirculate” mode, and pay attention to air quality reports via local media.
Did you know? Controlled fires, managed by skilled professionals, can greatly reduce the chance of a damaging wildfire.
Asthma and Air Quality
Asthma is a long-term condition affecting the lungs/respiratory system and making it difficult to breathe. In 2013, 400,000 South Carolinians — including 100,000 children — suffered from asthma. Air pollutants, such as particulate matter and ozone, can exacerbate asthma symptoms. Visit DHEC’s ozone forecast page or sign up to receive air quality alerts from Enviroflash.
Check out DHEC’s Environmental Public Health Tracking tool to find more information on how asthma and air quality affect South Carolinians. The EPA also has information available on Asthma and Outdoor Air Pollution.
Air Quality Trends
Historically, as sources of air pollution have increased — coal burning, factories, automobiles, power plants — air quality has declined. However, in the United States, beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, air quality has improved while the GDP, population, vehicle miles traveled and energy usage has increased. How is this possible? The Clean Air Act. Learn more about air quality trends across the US in this interactive trend report on Our Nation’s Air.
Air Quality Around the World
While air quality in the US has improved since the passage of the Clean Air Act, many cities and areas across the globe continue to struggle with air quality problems. Issues include wind-blown smoke and dust, vehicle emissions and industrial pollution. See the presentation Air Quality Around the World for examples of global air quality challenges and some novel strategies for addressing air pollution.
Citizen science refers to research collaborations between professional scientists and citizen volunteers. Citizen science projects can engage citizens in data collection and analysis in their communities. EPA’s “Village Green” project, for example, uses wind- and solar-powered park benches to collect minute-to-minute air measurements for ozone, particle pollution and weather conditions.
Lichens and mosses can be an indicator of air quality health. US federal agencies have been monitoring lichen health on federal lands since the early 2000s, and recently more citizens have been becoming involved in monitoring efforts. Programs like Michigan Tech’s “Mobile Environmental Citizen Science” and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “Citizen Science Central,” also show how citizen science can contribute.