Dr. Wendi Johnson - Wednesday, August 4, 2021
Air is so important for all living breathing beings. We live here, away from big crowds and cars and industry. We take for granted our usually pristine air. Until Canadian wildfires sent their air to us!
So, there have probably been conditions like this before, but now we have measurements or indices of air quality. There is particulate matter, ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Prior to these wildfires I heard of ozone action days. They would recommend that the young, old, or at-risk people not be out in the heat of the day and evening because that was when ozone levels would be highest and could affect breathing. Ground level ozone is formed when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds from auto or industrial pollution react with one another. When ozone is elevated, people with asthma and other lung disease have symptoms with minimal exertion.
With these wildfires, it is not the ozone, but the particulate matter that is the concern. The air quality index I have been following is measuring particles 2.5 micrometers and smaller. To put that in perspective, the average hair is 70 micrometers, so it is over 25 times the size of these particles. So even though they are ultra-small, there are so many of them that they irritate our respiratory tracts, especially those who are young, old, or have lunch problems like asthma.
Why do they irritate? Young people have smaller airways. Older people have age related decreases in lung function. People with asthma have airways that narrow with certain triggers. When you exercise, you use more air so you may feel effects even if you are not in an at-risk category.
So, if you have already been feeling the effects of our reduced air quality, please feel free to walk slower or less distance than usual. If you have not noticed a difference, that is great, but if our air returns to the unhealthy category, don’t purposely expose yourself because the damage can accumulate over time.