Identifying Recent Air Quality Improvements (Credit: National Weather Service, ScienceDaily, Los Angeles Times)
DISCUSSION: Air quality takes into account the amount of particulate matter, ozone, and other air pollutants in the atmosphere to give a sense of the cleanliness of the air. Particulate matter includes airborne particles like dust, dirt, soot, and smoke. Ozone reaches ground level as a build up of harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like motor vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents. The result of these air pollutants can be seen in the image above per Los Angeles Times.
Monitoring air quality is important for environmental and socioeconomic reasons, though this article solely focuses on the socioeconomic impacts. According to the National Weather Service, poor air quality is responsible for 60,000 premature deaths in the U.S. each year, while air pollution-related illnesses (asthma attacks, eye, ear, nose, and throat irritation, heart attacks and other respiratory and cardiovascular problems) cost an estimated $150 billion each year. As part of the Clean Air Act passed in 1970, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have partnered to issue daily air quality forecast guidance. These forecasts have tremendously improved air quality. There is still much work to be done for continued improvements in air quality.
A recent study conducted in China found that exposure to high levels of air pollution increases stress hormone levels and negative metabolic changes in otherwise healthy young adults. Researchers focused on fine particulate matter (PM2.5), a component of man made air pollution emitted from vehicles, factories, power plants, fires, and smoking. In brief, the study recruited 55 healthy young college students who received alternate treatments of real and artificial air purification in random orders in their dormitory rooms. The scientists looked for differences in bodily fluid metabolites, biomarkers, and blood pressures with increasing exposure to PM2.5. They found notable changes in 97 metabolites after PM2.5 exposure. There was also an average 82% lower level of indoor PM2.5 with air purifiers vs. artificial purifiers. Finally, there were short-term reductions in stress hormone levels after air purifiers were used in a safe range of exposure levels for PM2.5 after 24 hours with real air purifiers.
From this research, the use of air purifiers proves to be another way to continue improving air quality. Keep in mind this study was local to China, and results would vary dramatically in other countries. Nonetheless, the study brought to light a solution for the negative impacts of poor air quality onto people’s health.
To further investigate the societal impacts of weather, click here.
©2017 Weather Forecaster Amber Liggett