Region 1: EPA New England

Staying Healthy Outdoors: Air Quality


Ozone

Photo of a city street.

Ground-level ozone (one of the main ingredients in smog) is created when pollution from cars and trucks and industrial sources reacts with sunlight on hot summer days. Ozone near ground level can harm the respiratory system, causing irritation in the throat, coughing and chest discomfort. Ozone can aggravate asthma, emphysema and bronchitis and can inflame and damage, temporarily or permanently, the cells that line the lungs.

Action you can take:

  • Listen to forecasts for high ozone or smog in your area. This advice applies especially to children and adults with respiratory problems.
  • If levels are high, limit your outdoor activities or slow down your activities to reduce your exposure. On high ozone days, take steps to minimize emissions, such as refraining from using gas-powered lawn and garden equipment and reducing the number of trips you take in your car.
  • Fuel your vehicle in early morning or in the evening.

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Airborne particles

Photo of a smokestack.

Airborne particles (also called fine particles or particulate matter) are another major ingredient of smog and the main ingredient of haze. Airborne particles come from various sources, including fuel burning activities such as power plants, incinerators, trucks and buses, and wood stoves and fireplaces. Smoke, airborne dust, dirt, soot and liquid droplets can pose serious air quality problems in the home and to children. Particle pollution can occur year-round and can affect both the lungs and heart. Short-term exposure to particles can aggravate lung disease, causing asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and may also increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. Particle levels can be elevated indoors, especially when outdoor particle levels are high.

Action you can take:
To reduce indoor levels of fine particles, refrain from smoking and reduce the use of candles, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. Certain filters and room air cleaners can help reduce indoor particle levels. However, some air purifiers release potentially harmful levels of ozone and some fail to effectively remove unwanted particles. Listen to local forecasts to find out when particle levels are high in your area and reduce outdoor activities to reduce exposure. This advice applies especially to people with respiratory or heart disease, the older adults and children.

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Contaminated soil

Soil surrounding the home can become contaminated by lead and other metals, especially from chipping and peeling lead-based house paint. Vegetables or fruits grown in lead-contaminated soil may also contain lead.

Action you can take:
Have your soil tested for lead. Don’t grow vegetables if the testing shows high 9 levels of lead in the soil. If your soil is contaminated and you still want to grow fruits or vegetables, purchase topsoil and potting soil and grow the plants in containers. Also, landscape your yard to minimize exposure.

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Ultraviolet (UV) radiation

Photo of a girl playing in the surf.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun may damage skin, cause eye damage and suppress the immune system when exposure is excessive. Sunlight tends to be strongest in the summer in the middle of a clear day; however, UV is present at some level whenever the sun is up, all day, all year — even on cloudy days. Overexposure to the sun’s harmful UV light may damage skin, cause eye damage and suppress the immune system.

Action you can take:

  • Avoid overexposure to the sun by using sun screen, staying in the shade or inside and covering up with light clothing and a hat when the UV radiation is at its peak.
  • Wear sunglasses.

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Temperature extremes

New England's unusually hot or cold weather can present a threat to the health of older adults people. When winter temperatures drop significantly below normal, staying warm and safe can become a challenge. Many homes will be too cold, either due to a power failure or because the heating system isn't adequate for the weather. When people must use space heaters and fireplaces to stay warm, the risk of household fires increases, as well as the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. In summer the opposite can be true. During a heat wave, it can be difficult to fi nd cool relief and homes can become dangerously overheated. Sensitivity to temperature extremes increases as we age.

Action you can take:
Those with chronic diseases are at greatest risk. Stock food, fluids and clothing appropriate for extreme cold or heat. Identify some public places you could go to escape the extreme weather. Be aware of current and forecasted air quality by signing up to receive free air quality alerts at www.epa.gov/region1/aqi/, and plan activities accordingly. Know who to call if you need help.

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Air quality forecast

EPA works in coordination with local weather forecasters to provide a color-coded chart that reports air quality levels in communities across New England. You may see this chart on local weather forecasts. The purpose of the Air Quality Index and Forecast is to help you understand what local air quality means to your health. It is divided into categories that corresponds to a different level of health concern. For more information, please refer to the AQI detailed AQI chart on the AIRNOW Web site.

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