What does air quality mean? Good question – in the Baltimore-Washington region, air quality is determined by ground-level ozone and particle pollution.
Ground-level ozone is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight and heat, making it a summertime pollutant. Air pollutants from car exhaust, paint, aerosol products, and manufacturing emissions are some of the major contributions to ground level ozone.
Breathing in ground level ozone can reduce lung function by 20 percent and can trigger health reactions by those most particularly sensitive to poor air quality – children, older adults, those with respiratory or pulmonary conditions, athletes, and those most often outdoors – in addition to our ecosystem. Reactions may look like shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, fatigue, headaches, nausea, chest pain, and eye and throat irritation.
The EPA estimates that 5 to 20 percent of the total U.S. population is especially susceptible to the harmful effects of ozone.
Particle pollution – unlike ground-level ozone, particle pollution (also known as particulate matter) is a mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets in the air, which can occur year-round. Particles enter the air from a variety of sources and may be either directly emitted or may form under a chemical process much like the way ground level ozone forms. Many enter the air directly from power plants, factories, automobiles, construction vehicles, unpaved roads, wood burning, and agriculture sites. Others come from a reaction between gases from burning fuels, sunlight, and water vapor.
High levels of particles in the air can affect our lungs and heart and have been shown to trigger asthma and heart attacks, among other health problems. Particles also contribute to visible haze that obscures our skyline and impacts our scenic vistas. You can learn more about how poor air quality impacts your health and actions you can take to protect your family in our Guide to Keeping Your Lungs Happy.
In addition to educating the public about air quality, particular attention is given to sensitive groups, which includes individuals with respiratory or pulmonary conditions (asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, or cardiovascular disease), children, older adults, athletes, and those who are active outdoors. Clean Air Partners equips everyone with proactive resources to protect their health and the environment during poor air quality days.