Well the advent of serious heat and humidity means that all of us up here in the tailpipe of America (the Northeast generally and New England in particular) must face the seasonal reality of dangerously bad air.
During the summer we face “ground level ozone” which is created when substances like nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds are created by cars, power plants and the burning of gasoline, diesel fuel, coal and other fossil fuels interact with sunlight and heat. Many states, like Massachusetts, New York and Maine are happy (in addition to the Feds) to give you the gory details – but the bottom line is that ground level ozone harms the lungs of just about everyone but can cause the most trouble, increasing asthma attacks, heart attacks and even death in very vulnerable folks – like the elderly, the very young and people with various health problems.
A different problem is the dangerous haze of “particulate matter” that can be trapped in our air, particularly on a hot and muggy day. The potentially dangerous microscopic solids and liquid droplets less than 2.5 microns in size are known as “fine particles”. Like ground level ozone this pollution can be traced back to the burning of fossil fuel in cars, trucks, power plants and industrial furnaces. In cities around the world particulate matter is a major threat to the health of residents of inner city neighborhoods.
The states and the federal government continue to debate and consider new rules about the amount of this kind of pollution that is safe. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has proposed new standards regarding these pollutants – and CLF filed a comment urging adoption of tougher standards than what has been proposed.
If you want to see how bad your air is today and how bad it is predicted to be tomorrow then check out this handy government website full of national and regional maps with links to state-by-state information. And don’t let the “moderate” label fool you – since some real harm is possible at those levels of pollution it is worth paying attention before the pollution crosses over the line into “unhealthy for sensitive groups” let alone “unhealthy”, “very unhealthy” and the (fortunately unusual but terrifying) “hazardous”.
And of course as average temperatures rise due to global warming we will see more of this kind of bad air quality – as the pollution combines with hotter air. This is just one of the many health effects anticipated as global warming unfolds.
All the more reason to look towards cleaner energy sources for our electricity and our transportation needs.