In this guest post from The City of Austin’s Air Quality Program Manager, Amanda Mortl answers common questions about air quality and kids’ health.
Across the US, we celebrate Air Quality Awareness Week during the first week of May. Yet here in sunny and warm central Texas, we need to be “air aware” as early as March due to the potential for high levels of the “bad” type of ozone, called ground-level ozone. Read on to learn more about air quality in our region and what you can do to help keep our air clean.
How does ground-level ozone impact our children’s health?
Exposure to ozone can worsen bronchitis and emphysema, trigger asthma, and permanently damage lung tissue. On days with bad air quality, people can experience symptoms like coughing and throat irritation, chest pain or tightening, and shortness of breath.
Children and teenagers are particularly sensitive to poor air quality because they breathe faster and have developing brains, lungs, and immune systems. Air pollution is even more harmful to children with asthma, so caregivers may want to take greater precautions to reduce exposure.
Why does “ozone season” happen during the summer?
Because our summers are hot and sunny! Ground-level ozone forms in the presence of sunlight, which provides the energy needed for the pollution of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds to react and make ozone. Higher air temperatures can also speed up chemical reactions in the air. Concentrations are typically highest on hot days with low humidity when the wind is light or stagnant.
What can I do to reduce my child’s exposure to air pollution?
- Check the air quality forecast for the day by paying attention to the local weather forecast, heading to aircentraltexas.org, installing the AirNow app on your phone, or signing up for daily air quality emails.
- If air pollution levels are high, consider light to moderate outdoor activity (like walking instead of running) and indoor activities. Reduce exposure by staying inside, ensuring your windows are closed, and routinely replacing the air filter in your home.
How can I help prevent air pollution?
Here’s the exciting part: things we can do to prevent air pollution often help protect our climate at the same time! Here’s what you can do to keep our air clean:
- Reduce idling.
- Drive less overall. Instead, use sustainable forms of transportation like walking, biking, carpooling, or taking public transit.
- Use less electricity and conserve water by:
- Setting your air conditioner at a higher temperature
- Checking for breezy windows and doors to ensure the weather stripping in your house is in good shape.
- Switching to energy and water-efficient appliances and LEDs if possible
Even more ozone prevention tips include:
- Refuel your vehicle in the evening instead of the morning
- Avoid unnecessary side trips or mowing your lawn during the middle, hotter part of the day
- Use battery-powered electric equipment instead of gasoline-powered
Involve even the youngest kids in clean air action!
Join Austin’s Office of Sustainability in partnership with The Parents’ Climate Community for a Clean Air Storytime on Saturday, April 29th 11-noon @Little Walnut Creek Branch. Kids and their caregivers will learn about protecting air quality for our health with a reading of “The Air We Breathe” and “Hablemos con el aire” before engaging in a creative art reflection.