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Ozone alert: How to breathe easier

Lungs ozone alert

The city of Wichita has already issued its first ozone alert for 2017, which means that high ozone levels are potentially unhealthy for youth, seniors, people with respiratory disease like asthma or emphysema, and adults who spend long periods of time outdoors.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ozone is a colorless gas that can be good or bad, depending on where it is. Ozone in the stratosphere is good because it shields the earth from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Ozone at ground level, where we breathe, is bad because it can harm our health.

Ozone forms when two types of pollutants (volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides) react in sunlight. These pollutants come from sources such as vehicles, industries, power plants, and products such as solvents and paints.

According to Ascension Medical Group allergy specialist Thomas Scott, MD, everyone should be concerned about the level of ozone.

“It can affect everybody, even people who don’t have respiratory problems,” Dr. Scott says. “The ozone is a byproduct of our greatest asset, the sunshine.”

Dr. Scott says that the pollutants in ozone are free radicals which when inhaled, can cause damage to tissues such as lungs, eyes and mucus membranes. It can trigger asthma attacks and patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) might experience worsening symptoms.

Ozone can cause a number of health problems, including coughing, breathing difficulty, and lung damage. Exposure to ozone can make the lungs more susceptible to infection, aggravate lung diseases, increase the frequency of asthma attacks, and increase the risk of early death from heart or lung disease.

On ozone alert days, residents and businesses are asked to take steps to reduce the emissions that create ozone such as:

  • Refueling when it’s cool (after 6 p.m. or after dark).
  • Stop fueling at the sound of the click.
  • Walking or riding your bike to work.
  • Delaying mowing.
  • Taking your lunch to work to avoid driving during the hottest part of the day.
  • Turning off your car or not letting it idle more than 30 seconds.
  • Postponing errands.
  • Delaying painting projects.