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Your top 4 questions on air pollution, answered

The Greater Philadelphia region has a huge air pollution problem. Here's what you need to know to take care of yourself and family. 


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Here in the Greater Philadelphia region, we have an air quality problem — and it doesn't look like it's going to get better anytime soon.

Already this year, the region has experienced 10 days between May 1 and July 25 that violated the ozone standard, with six of those days coming in July 2018.

In 2017, the Greater Philadelphia region (defined as Philadelphia Combined Statistical Area or CBSA), experienced fourteen days that exceeded the federal health based standard for ground level ozone between April 1 and Sept. 30, 2017.

But you might be wanting to know more about how and why we are being severely affected by air pollution in the region — and what, exactly, we can do about it. Here is everything you know to clear the air, dispel the doom and gloom, and breathe a little bit easier going forward this summer.

1. Where does it come from?

Air pollution in general can come from a variety of sources, but in the Greater Philadelphia region the air pollution comes in large part due to the many forms of transportation — cars, trucks, buses, construction equipment, diesel locomotives — that produce Nitrogen Oxides, also known as NOx, which are the precursor to ozone.

Fuel consumption to generate heat and electricity at homes, businesses, and institutions across the city is also a large source of NOx, which then becomes ozone.

Another contributor to air pollution are commercial and residential solvents and gas stations, which produce Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). Solvents from homes and businesses can come from dry cleaners, paint thinners, and certain industrial coating processes. Evaporating or spilled gasoline, commonly found at gas stations, is also a VOC that serves as an ozone precursor.

2. What are the dangers associated with air pollution?

Ozone pollution affects everyone’s health, but it can be especially debilitating and dangerous for children and the elderly.

Symptoms that some people may experience due to ozone pollution include:

  • Coughing and pain when taking a deep breath
  • Lung and throat irritation
  • Wheezing and trouble breathing during exercise or outdoor activities

These issues can also impact overall lung development in children and aggravate pulmonary diseases. This means that it’s particularly problematic for people with asthma, breathing disorders, the elderly, the very young, and people that work outside.

3. How can I protect myself and my family from air pollution?

Knowing air quality conditions and taking precautions to avoid exposure to air pollution is an important tool for anyone, and especially if you need to develop and/or maintain an asthma management plan.

Here a few ways to take precautions according to the air quality plan:  

  • Check the Color Code. The US EPA issues an area specific, color coded air quality forecast every day. On days when air quality reaches Code Orange or Code Red, people with breathing problems should reduce strenuous outdoor activities. This will reduce exposure to air pollution and lessen the likelihood of aggravating asthma symptoms.
  • Sign up for a free forecast. Anyone can sign-up to get free emails or texts of the air quality forecast here. This information will help people manage their activities and protect their health.
  • Get moving - the right way. You can also check out this activity guide from EPA here for tips on what to do when the air quality is bad.


4. What can I do to help improve air quality?

If you want to make a change and reduce air pollution to create a safer, cleaner environment for you, your family and loved ones, and your neighbors, take a look at what steps you can take.

  • Turn off your car or truck when you are not in it. This will reduce NOx.
  • Conserve energy in your home and at work. This will reduce NOx.
  • Maintain your vehicle. Well maintained vehicles get better gas mileage and cause less pollution. This will reduce NOx.
  • Take Transit. Less cars = better air. This will reduce NOx.
  • Stop pumping gas at the click. Spilled gasoline contributes to air pollution. This will reduce VOC.

For more information and resources on how to stay clear this year and protect yourself from air pollution, go to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission website for more information on air quality. 


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