Better Air, Better Health

May 4 through May 8 2020 is Air Quality Awareness Week!

Friday, May 8 2020 – Air Quality Education Resources

Low cost air quality sensors have made it easier for schools and the public to experience tracking air quality in their own community. Although low cost sensors are less accurate than official monitoring stations, they can help fill in gaps, show trends, and react quickly to changing air quality conditions.The US EPA and the South Coast AQMD have been testing low cost sensors to see how well they really work.

Source: Purple Air

The District has several Purple Air particulate sensors deployed at schools in Butte County. You can visit this map to see Purple Air sensors deployed by the District and other members of the community. Kelly Towne, Administrative Technician for our District, had this to say about Purple Air particulate sensors:

“During the Carr and Camp Fires of 2018 I utilized the Purple Air Map to protect my family and I from unhealthy air quality levels.  I rely on a breathing device at night and the Purple Air sensors provide real time air quality in a user friendly format.  With the Purple Air Map I was able to access current air quality conditions with just a few clicks of my mouse.”

The Purple Air map during the 2018 Camp Fire



Thursday, May 7 2020 – Air Quality Around the World

Did you know that NASA plays a big part in monitoring and researching air quality around the world? One of the pollutants that NASA tracks is Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2). At high concentrations, NO2 can be a health concern, but in California NO2 is more well known for being a precursor to smog and ozone development.

Source: NASA

The recent slow down of industry and vehicle traffic due to the pandemic has led to decreases in NO2 emissions.

Source: NASA

NASA can also track Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD) which shows how fast light is absorbed or blocked when traveling through the atmosphere (correlates with PM2.5 values).

There has been similar measurements made in California too:

Source: NASA


Wednesday, May 6 2020 – Where is Your AQI Coming From?

Riley Peacock, Air Quality Compliance Specialist, shares information about the Air Quality Index and how to use it track air quality conditions.

What is the Air Quality Index?

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a tool created by the EPA for reporting and forecasting daily air quality that indicates how healthy the air is. Monitors record data from common pollutants (ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide) and converts it to separate AQI values. Generally, the highest value is reported.


The air monitoring station in Chico, CA measures for particulates, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and toxics.

The AQI is separated into 6 standardized categories which are based on the AQI value – Good, Moderate, Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, Unhealthy, Very Unhealthy, and Hazardous. Information with cautionary statements can be found in the table below:

One of the biggest challenges to understanding the AQI is how it affects you. The first step is knowing if you are in an at-risk group to being more affected by air pollution. In general, the most at-risk groups are children, older adults, and people with heart or lung disease. Also, perfectly healthy people can be more sensitive to pollutants. Using knowledge of your health status alongside checking the daily AQI can help you decide how much outdoor activity you can do on a given day.

What Affects the AQI?

Geography

Where you live is one of the contributing factors to your AQI. Pollutants in the valley, mountains, and plains all disperse differently. For example, California’s valleys are known for having poor AQI on strong inversion days. An inversion occurs when cooler air gets trapped at ground level under warmer air. Inversion layers can cause cities to appear hazy, as shown in the graphic below.

Human Sources of Pollution

Industries such as manufacturing, power plants, and agriculture all create pollutants. So do vehicles and wood-burning. This can worsen the AQI, but regulations over the last several decades have worked to reduce the amount of pollutants that industries, vehicles, and burning have produced.

Natural Disasters

Natural disasters such as wildfires and volcanoes can change the AQI the most rapidly. The Camp Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California’s history, was ignited on November 8, 2018 in Butte County.  Over 17 days, the fire spread over 150,000 acres. To see how much wildfires can affect the AQI, data from November 8-December 8 in 2018 and 2019 was compared. The data can be found below.

As expected, the air quality during 2018 was much worse than 2019. 2018 had 10 days of being Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (USG) or worse, when 2019 had 0.

What You Can Do with This Information?

Now that you understand what the Air Quality Index is, you can now apply it to your everyday life. Before going outside, especially for a long period of time, check your local AQI at www.airnow.gov. You can also track how the current AQI compares with historic trends at EPA’s AQI Tracker website.


Tuesday, May 5 2020 – Asthma and Your Health

Micaela Braddi, Air Quality Compliance Specialist, shares how poor air quality impacts human health, especially those with asthma or other respiratory conditions.

What is Air Pollution?

Air pollution is a mixture of microscopic particles and gases that are emitted both by natural and human sources. Although often invisible, air pollutants have a significant impact on our health. More specifically, our respiratory and cardiovascular health.

Asthma

What Is Asthma?

According to the CDC, asthma is a respiratory condition that affects more than 25 million Americans. Asthma is a condition in which the smaller airways in the lungs become inflamed and blocked by mucus when exposed to a trigger, making it difficult to breathe. Triggers are often environmental, most prominently particle pollution and ground-level ozone.

How Does Air Quality Affect Asthma?

Source: Community Health Training Institute, 2019.

Particle pollution consists of small liquid or solid particles. The most common sources of particle pollution include haze, smoke, dust, and pollen, to name a few. These particles can penetrate deep into the lungs due to their small size. As these tiny particles travel deep into the respiratory system, they trigger an inflammatory response. Therefore, putting asthmatics at risk for an asthma attack.

Source: US EPA

Ozone is another prominent trigger for asthma. The main contributor to smog and haze, ozone is the result of a reaction between vehicle emissions and sunlight. Ozone gas, when inhaled, is highly irritating to the respiratory system. Due to this fact, it has been shown that as ozone concentrations increase, so do the number of asthma attacks and other asthma-related symptoms.

Source: US EPA

Air Quality and Your Health

Air pollution has shown to trigger, worsen, and even contribute to the development of a variety of respiratory conditions and cardiovascular disease. For these reasons, ensuring good air quality is an essential factor in ensuring public health.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that air pollution is responsible for approximately 4.2 million premature deaths globally. This is due to air pollution’s known contribution to heart attacks, stroke, lung cancer, and a variety of respiratory-related conditions. Although air pollution negatively impacts everyone, unfortunately, some communities are more vulnerable than others. The WHO reports that factors such as age, health status, and even socioeconomic status can increase one’s vulnerability to air pollution.

Knowing air quality’s impact on our lives, how can we better ensure our health and well-being?

The US Environmental Protection Agency has established National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for several pollutants that concern human health. In California, air districts work to measure and monitor these pollutants at the local level. Primarily focusing on the ones of greatest concern, particulate matter (PM) and ozone. Pollutants are measured and air quality is forecasted daily by local air districts, including us here at BCAQMD.  So if you have questions or concerns regarding the air quality in your area, your local air district can provide further information regarding air quality and your health.

Air Quality and COVID-19

As of now, the world is still struggling with the effects brought about by the COVID-19 virus. With COVID-19 primarily affecting the respiratory system, local air districts have been made aware of the public’s growing concern regarding air quality and its relation to the virus.

Here at BCAQMD, we continually and carefully monitor the air quality daily. Over these recent months, the air quality in Butte County has remained Good to Moderate. This is primarily attributed to this spring’s atmospheric conditions, preventing pollutants from remaining in the air for an extended period.

As we continue to navigate this uncertain time, the District will continue to monitor the air and provide daily air quality updates to the public.


Monday, May 4 2020 – Wildfires and Air Quality

Ursula Parker, Senior Air Quality Compliance Specialist, shares several ways to protect yourself when wildfire smoke impacts your community.

Wildfire smoke is always a concern in California, and because health officials know that exposure to smoke can reduce the body’s ability to fight infection and viruses and can worsen the symptoms of respiratory illnesses, now more than ever, Californians need to know what to do to protect themselves from wildfire smoke.

Before wildfire season:

  • Consider saving several extra high efficiency air filters (MERV 13 or better) to use with your home’s HVAC system in case there are wildfire smoke impacts.  Those without a central HVAC system can purchase a portable air cleaner to create a “safe room” in your home (make sure it doesn’t produce Ozone). Here is more information on air filtration during wildfires from the US EPA.

During wildfire smoke impacts:

  • Stay inside and make your indoor air environment safe.
    • Try to limit sources of air pollution in your home (smoking, use of incense or candles, and frying food are some examples of indoor air pollution sources);
    • Seal any windows or doors that allow outside air into your home;
    • If you have air conditioning, make sure your setting is on “recirculate” to use inside air rather than drawing in air from the outside;
  • Limit activity outside as well as exertion outside
    • Stock up on food, water and medication so that you don’t need to go to the store as often;
    • Track air quality in your area through websites or mobile apps to know when air quality is forecasted to improve so you can plan your activity during those times and verify before heading out. Here are several websites to check:
      Airnow – the official air quality tracking website of the US EPA.
      The California Smoke Blog – a source of information for fire information, smoke forecasts, and more.
      Airfire – a US Forest Service product showing official air quality data and portable monitors with additional analysis tools.
      Purple Air – an unofficial network of particulate sensors that helps show trends at the community level.
      EPA’s SmokeSense App – shows air quality information as well as crowdsourced information on smoke impacts.

  • When you need to be outside, check on air quality to understand the dangers, limit your time in smoke and wear a respirator (mask). Please note that respirators are not designed for use by children, and children are more negatively affected by smoke, as are older persons and those with respiratory conditions or other health conditions. Here is more information on masks/respirators from the US EPA.
  • Make sure your car’s air filtration system is set on “recirculate”
  • Be familiar with your community’s resources for “clean air spaces” or places that you can go to cool down and escape the smoke safely.
  • For more information, see the following resources:

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