Things are looking up for air quality in St. Charles Parish after the area received a ‘C’ grade from the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report for the second-straight year. In many cases a ‘C’ grade may be cause for concern, but after garnering an ‘F’ grade on the report for 15 out of the last 16 years, it is cause for relief in St. Charles.
Susannah Fuchs, Senior Director of Environmental Health American Lung Association Plains-Gulf Region, said cleaner air in the parish is part if a nationwide trend.
The association tracks ozone levels in locales across the country. Ozone is air pollution that can cause health problems and lung disease and can be caused by a variety of factors, including vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions.
Despite the news that St. Charles’ air is improving, a ‘C’ grade still means at-risk populations should be careful.
"Air pollution has such an impact on health," Fuchs said. "If you look at who is affected by ozone air pollution it really only makes sense to look at who is not affected because children and the elderly, teenagers, people with lung disease, anyone who works or exercises outdoors, those people are all affected by air pollution and everyone almost fits into one of those categories."
Fuchs said on bad air days when the ozone level is higher, at-risk populations have more of a tendency to be affected.
"In terms of the formation (of ozone) it is sunlight, heat, light winds and emissions," Fuchs said. "The emissions come from all sorts or places. Industry is one of them, but the thing that contributes the most is mobile sources (vehicles), how people get from here to there."
Fuchs said automobile pollution is the main facot in raising ozone levels.
"We are always promoting things like flex time or working from home, telecommuting, carpooling, vanpooling or using transit to get places or even making a commitment to doing those kinds of things occasionally," Fuchs said. "We’ve moved from trying to say do it whenever we think there is going to be a bad air day to saying do it on a regular basis because that might reduce the number of bad air days we actually have."
In addition, Fuchs said those who engage in vigorous exercise should in particular pay attention to developing healthier habits.
"If you are a runner and you tend to run outdoors going after dusk or going early in the morning would be safer for your health because you are not breathing that air pollution and obviously don’t run right by a main road with lots of vehicles too. That’s more for the particle pollution than the ozone which is not even collected," Fuchs said. "Some places will adjust or change the times for after school football practice based on air pollution levels because a lot of times it is four in the afternoon in the summer when school is about to end and that is really hard on those athletes."
According to the report, almost the entire parish population is at a higher risk for health problems related to air pollution. Included in the groups at high risk are 1,180 children with pediatric asthma, 2,580 with adult asthma, 1,654 with chronic bronchitis, 680 with emphysema, 12,321 with cardiovascular disease and 3,917 with diabetes. The 14,208 children under 18 years old and 5,235 adults over the age of 65 are also considered to be at a higher risk for problems associated with air pollution.
Residents can check www.airnow.gov to see pollution notifications each day.