Air Quality Actions for our Health: A Parent's Perspective
Across the US, we celebrate Air Quality Awareness Week during the first week of May. Yet here in sunny and warm central Texas, we need to be “air aware” as early as March due to the potential for high levels of the dangerous type of ozone, called ground-level ozone. When air quality becomes poor, it can affect all of us, but some community members are at greater risk. Included in this group are the elderly, outdoor workers, those with respiratory illnesses, pregnant people, and children.
For Air Quality Awareness Week, we sat down to speak with Amanda Mortl, Air Quality Program Coordinator for the City of Austin, to discuss how we can work together to support Austin's clear, blue skies. It's a topic that hits particularly close to home for Amanda as her own family has had to deal with the effects of childhood asthma across generations, a situation that may be all too common for other parents in Texas. In fact, a recent study from the University of Texas showed that children in Texas are 60% more likely to be hospitalized for an asthma-related incidence than the national average. Learn more about the effects of ozone, its impact on children in Austin, and how we each can support better air quality with Amanda's reflections below.
What is ozone and how does it impact our air quality?
Ozone is a gas that makes up the Earth's atmosphere. There are two types of ozone: stratospheric, which exists high above the earth and is good, and ground-level ozone, which can be really harmful. Exposure to ground-level ozone can worsen bronchitis and emphysema, trigger asthma, and permanently damage lung tissue. On days with bad air quality, people can experience symptoms like coughing and throat irritation, chest pain or tightening, and shortness of breath.
How does ground-level ozone impact our children’s health?
Children and teenagers are particularly sensitive to poor air quality because they breathe faster and have developing brains, lungs, and immune systems. Air pollution is even more harmful to children with asthma, so caregivers may want to take greater precautions to reduce exposure.
What can parents in Central Texas do to reduce their child's exposure to air pollution?
- Check the air quality forecast for the day by paying attention to the local weather forecast, heading to aircentraltexas.org, installing the AirNow app on your phone, or signing up for daily air quality emails.
- If air pollution levels are high, consider light to moderate outdoor activity (like walking instead of running) and indoor activities. Reduce exposure by staying inside, ensuring your windows are closed, and routinely replacing the air filter in your home.
How can each of us help prevent air pollution?
Here’s the exciting part: things we can do to prevent air pollution often help protect our climate at the same time! Here’s what you can do to keep our air clean:
- Reduce idling.
- Drive less overall. Instead, use sustainable forms of transportation like walking, biking, carpooling, or taking public transit.
- Use less electricity and conserve water by:
- Setting your air conditioner at a higher temperature
- Checking for breezy windows and doors to ensure the weather stripping in your house is in good shape.
- Switching to energy and water-efficient appliances and LEDs if possible
Do you have any other tips for reducing ozone?
Sure! I would encourage Austinites to:
- Refuel your vehicle in the evening instead of the morning
- Avoid unnecessary side trips or mowing your lawn during the middle, hotter part of the day
- Use battery-powered electric equipment instead of gasoline-powered
For those looking to learn more about air quality in our city, I encourage you to visit AustinTexas.gov/AirQuality.