Yesterday, over 50 cities in the United States declared Air Quality Action Days to protect their population from potential over exposure to hazardous gases and particles in the air. One such harmful gas found in the air we breathe is Ozone (O3). Here in Pittsburgh, we’re in the middle of quite the heat wave, with high temperatures in the low to mid 90’s the last several days. Yesterday’s Air Quality Index (AQI) reached 115, which converts to 81 parts per billion of Ozone in the air. The government considers this number to be unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as those with lung diseases (including asthma), children, older adults, and people who are active outdoors.
According to AirNow.gov, even low levels of ozone can cause health effects for those exposed. These effects include:
• Difficulty breathing deeply
• Shortness of breath or painful breathing
• Coughing and sore throat
• Inflammation and damage to lung lining
• Aggravation of lung diseases
• Increased frequency of asthma attacks
• Continuing damage to the lungs even when the symptoms have disappeared
In terms of occupational exposure, OSHA set an 8 hour permissible exposure limit at 0.1 parts per million, which is only .019 parts per million higher than what was in the air in Pittsburgh yesterday. Furthermore, NIOSH set an Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health number at 5 parts per million.
What should we take away from this? The government monitors the air we all breathe because of the harmful effects of gases like Ozone. Shouldn’t employers monitor the air that workers breathe too? Considering that Ozone sterilizers used in healthcare can have tens of thousands parts per million in the chamber, it wouldn’t take much of a leak to cause serious health problems or even death!
Visit www.airnow.gov to learn more about Air Quality Action Days, and other harmful effects of air pollution.