Smog Alert: A Warning to Sensitive Groups

Children, Older Adults May Be at Risk Amid Higher Temps

Updated on Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Physicians/nurse practitioners mentioned in this post: Stanley M. Fineman, MD

With this past weekend’s unofficial start of the summer season coupled with expected high temperatures this week, children and older adults may want to exercise caution when spending time outdoors.

The Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has issued a code orange air quality alert for the metro area today, warning that those with heart or lung disease, older adults and children should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.

Similar alerts have been issued in recent days, with one of the big contributors being a stagnant air mass, which typically leads to a buildup of pollution, says Nikole Listemaa, a senior forecaster for the National Weather Service.

“We’ve had the same air mass in place for at least a week, week and a half, and in summertime we tend to get a lot more particulates in the air, because the air’s more stagnant,” Listemaa said Monday.

The NWS forecast says Cobb’s high temperatures are expected to reach the upper 80s each day this week. Those temps likely won’t help the metro area, which is already in the midst of ozone season. In Georgia, according to the DNR, ozone season occurs between April and September, as hot and sunny days can intensify the production of ozone.

Breathing in ground-level ozone, the DNR said, can trigger problems such as chest pain and throat irritation, and can cause coughing or worsen conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year lowered the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone, meaning that the public will be notified earlier and at lower pollution levels when the air quality could affect them.

Under the new scale, code orange alerts will be issued for ozone levels at or above 71 parts per billion. Under the previous scale, it began at 76. The next-highest level, code red or “unhealthy,” begins at 86; under the previous scale, it began at 96.

Though today’s air quality may be classified as unhealthy for sensitive groups, conditions are expected to get worse as the summer continues.

“Typically, we see more problems with smog in late July or August. That’s the hotter part of the summer, and that’s generally when we see more problems,” said Dr. Stanley Fineman, an allergist for Atlanta Allergy & Asthma, but adds that the Atlanta drivers in recent days likely increased the amount of pollution in the metro area’s air.

“One of the major contributors of smog is pollution from car exhaust fumes. I understand that’s typically a problem during long holiday weekends when people are out driving more,” he said.

Across the country, more than 38 million drivers were predicted to travel over the Memorial Day weekend, the second highest on record, according to the AAA.

Fineman said at-risk individuals who may need to take heed to today’s air quality alerts should take precautions in order to reduce the hazards to their health.

“We tell our patients who have respiratory problems (or) lung disease that they do need to be careful with their outdoor activities, particularly at the very heat of the day when there’s smog alerts. That tends to be the worst time of the day for patients and exposure,” he said.

Fineman adds that there are alternatives to those who want to remain active amid the high temperatures and worsening air quality.

“We do encourage people to do their exercise indoors. Some of the malls accommodate walking in the mornings in the air conditioning,” he said. “That helps people with respiratory problems when there’s smog alerts.”

This article was written by Jon Gargis of The Marietta Daily Journal on May 30, 2016.

You can view the article on The Marietta Daily Journal website here. Note: There is a paywall.