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It’s not just the Air Quality Alert Days that are dangerous

As we head into yeat another Air Quality Alert Day in Rhode Island, let’s take a look at this posted by the Coalition for Transportation Choices last week.

Some summer days in Rhode Island can literally take your breath away.

Fine particulate pollution — which can aggravate breathing problems and increase a person’s susceptibility to respiratory infections – can be a problem any time of year. But the warmer weather from April through September can trigger elevated levels of ozone smog.

Breathing high concentrations of ozone may lead to shortness of breath; chest pain; inflammation of the lung lining; wheezing and coughing; increased risk of asthma attacks, need for medical treatment, and for hospitalization for respiratory or heart disease; and premature death.

When forecasters anticipate the elevated temperatures and other factors that make for a bad air day, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) issues an Air Quality Alert under a joint program with the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the Rhode Department of Health. Saturday, July 7 was the 4th air quality alert day of the year (the first three were June 20, 21 and 29.)

The Air Quality Alert program encourages residents to reduce air pollutant emissions on those days by limiting their car travel, refueling after dark, conserving electricity, not operating outdoor power equipment such as lawn mowers, and restricting use of chemicals which evaporate easily, such as charcoal lighter fluids.

To help cut down on the use of cars, all regular RIPTA routes (excluding special services) are free on Air Quality Alert days. RIPTA is reimbursed for bus and trolley rides on those days through the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program. While counting riders on a day on which fares are not collected is difficult, RIPTA staff estimate that Alert Days see an increase in daily ridership of approximately 7-8 percent.

DEM’s daily air quality forecast and Air Quality Alerts, as well as links to near real time ozone and particulate matter readings are available on RIDEM. Click on “Air Quality Forecast” under “Timely Topics.” Alerts are also posted on RIPTA under “News and Events” and on the RIDOT’s highway overhead dynamic message signs on the afternoon before and the morning of the Alert. RIPTA schedules and other information are available on the website or by calling (401) 781-9400 to help you keep your transportation-related emissions down any time.

It’s not just the Alert Days that can cause problems

Because the Air Quality Alert is based on forecasts made the afternoon before, sometimes Alert days and actual high levels of pollution do not exactly match. For example, an Alert day can turn out not to be as polluted as forecast, in part because people heed the warnings and take steps to avoid activities that cause pollution, or unexpected conditions cause unhealthy levels of pollution on days for which there was no Air Quality Alert.

That’s why the American Lung Association urges residents to avoid strenuous outdoor activities on very hot days whether or not an Air Quality Alert has been issued. Not all parts of the state are served by air pollution monitors, and both immediate and long-term health effects occur to many people at pollution levels below the current federal standards.

Individuals who experience respiratory, cardiac, or other symptoms should consult their doctors. Advance preparation for higher pollution days can include regular tracking of pollution levels and their own reactions, and planning ahead for medication use and other appropriate responses to render some treatment visits and possibly hospitalization less necessary.

Check out the American Lung Association’s State of the Air app for your smartphone to get both the current and next-day air quality forecasts anywhere in the U.S., and set a notification alert. The app also provides tips on what activities are to be avoided depending on the current conditions.

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