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Cooler, wetter summer means more clear air

Filed by KOSU News in Feature.
August 27, 2013

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The following was written by KOSU’s Quinton Chandler.


You probably know all the rain from this summer has been good to some farmers, and it’s helped control fire danger. But we owe our summer showers for at least one more big favor. Experts say all the stormy weather is clearing ozone out of our air and that may be especially good news for Oklahomans with respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD.

We’ve all noticed air quality alerts and ozone warnings in the news, and sometimes you’ll see big light up signs out on the highway saying in some way or another ozone levels are high. But, what in the world is ozone anyway? Well there’s naturally occurring ozone, which we need to protect us from the sun, and then there’s ozone the pollutant.

“Ozone is particularly tied to the summer time and it needs heat sunlight and the pollutants of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides.”

That’s Scott Thomas with the Department of Environmental Quality and he’s basically saying ozone is a combination of a few bad things we already don’t want to be breathing in by themselves. If these pollutants mix together, you can get ozone, especially if it’s a hot day with very little wind.

“Weather plays a big influence in all air pollution. You’ve often heard that dispersion is the solution to pollution.”

“We’ve seen substantially less days this summer. If it’s raining, if the wind is blowing, generally you’re not going to have high ozone levels.”

Substantially less days with high ozone. Because it rained more this summer. Because the wind picked up.

Think about the past two summers they were a lot hotter right? And dry? According to Scott’s office,  our ozone levels were way above the national standard. In fact, this is the first summer in two years that the levels have been under.

“Feels like the air is a lot cleaner and last summer I had some problems. I had to get put on a maintenance inhaler for a couple of months and this year I haven’t had that.”

That’s Jocelyn Dawson. The 42 year old has been fighting asthma and allergies since practically the beginning of her life.

Jocelyn says she was a shut in last summer and the summer before that because going out with friends was really embarrassing.

“I would avoid any outdoor activities. My friends just stopped asking me to go out to like summer concerts.”

“You want to get out and do stuff but you know if you go out you’re either going to be wheezing or sneezing.”

“It makes you feel like people want to slap a mask on you.”

Thomas Wright with the American Lung Association says ozone could’ve been part of Jocelyn’s problem.

“Ozone has a tendency to increase as the heat index increases. That causes an effect on the breathing capacity of people with asthma COPD and other bronchial problems.”

Back in 2011 the Department of Health reported around 10% of adults and children said they had asthma. That’s 1 percentage point more than the national level.  And according to the American Lung Association more than 176,000 people are living with COPD. Both diseases can be affected by ozone, but asthmatics are thought to be the most sensitive. Still, Braydon Nave with the Department of Health says there’s no guarantee everyone has been breathing easier.

“Anytime that you have a decrease in one asthma trigger, people that are directly affected by that asthma trigger, they’re not going to be as affected out in the environment. However, each asthmatic is different so individually it might not affect one asthmatic but it might affect another.”

Braydon has asthma too and he says ozone is definitely one of his triggers. Like Jocelyn his breathing has been much better this summer and he was open to the idea cleaner air could have something to do with it but he couldn’t say for sure.

In fact, no one I spoke to would say with 100% certainty the differences people like Jocelyn and Braydon were feeling stemmed from lower ozone levels, because there aren’t any hard numbers to prove it. But, it makes since right?

“Unless somebody is just not paying attention I can’t imagine them not feeling a difference in their lives.”

“I’ve had it my whole life. You just learn to live with it, but I think this year has been the best year by far in a long time.”

Wright reminded me people with respiratory diseases aren’t the only ones affected by ozone. Even if we don’t carry an inhaler, he says pollutants are making a difference with each of the 20,000 breaths we take a day.

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