Air quality alert in effect in Chicago area due to high ozone levels

August 20, 2013 (CHICAGO)

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has determined Tuesday would be the first Air Pollution Action Day of the summer for the entire Chicago area, including DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Grundy, Lake, McHenry and Will counties. On Tuesday morning, the Illinois environmental protection agency extended the alert until midnight on Wednesday evening.

"People with asthma can develop asthma exacerbations or asthma episodes and people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can also have exacerbations on days like today," said Eileen Lowery, Respiratory Health Association.

An Air Pollution Action Day is declared when ozone levels are expected to reach the orange, or unhealthy, levels for sensitive groups, including people with pulmonary or respiratory disease. People with asthma, especially, should be careful, along with active children and older adults, the Illinois EPA says.

Mary Ann Rainey walks about five miles a day and in the past week she's noticed a change in the air quality in the city.

"It's noticeable and when it's extremely hot, I feel it in my breathing, I actually feel it in my breathing," said Mary Ann Rainey, walker.

"Those individuals need to stay hydrated," said James Martinez, American Lung Association. "They need to limit their activity outside. Those with elderly loved ones, or again, children with asthma, shouldn't leave them alone."

Mark Subbarao, an astronomer at Adler Planetarium, says the good ozone in the stratosphere protects us from ultraviolet rays and cancers risks. The bad ozone is where pollution is created on earth. That's the problem on Tuesday.

"The ozone up there is good, the ozone down here is bad. So we want to stop emitting chemicals that damage the ozone up there. And we want to stop emitting chemicals that create ozone down here. So it's the same chemical but two stories," said Mark Subbarao, astronomer, Adler Planetarium.

"It's basically hydrocarbons stuff that's coming out of your tailpipe hitting sunlight. Turns into ozone. Ozone reacts with other chemicals and creates smog and that's not good for us," said Subbarao.

Dr. Mark Yoder of Rush University Medical Center says those with asthma may notice more shortness of breath today especially when they exercise outdoors. Active children and older adults are also being urged to take precautions, and those without issues should take note as well. Runner Lewis Williams says he's aware of the alert.

"I heard about it last night but I didn't pay any attention. I figure, you know, you get up early in the morning before all the cars are going and everything you'll be okay," said Lewis Williams, runner.

"Any time you can try to minimize your exposure to bad air that is probably a good recommendation," said Dr. Yoder.

Chicago-area residents and business owners were being asked to take action Tuesday to reduce air pollution. Tips include taking public transportation, consolidating errand runs and doing those after 7 p.m., turning off electronics that are not in use, not burning leaves, and avoiding using gas-powered equipment, like lawnmowers.

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