June 2011 Newsletter | Read Current Issue »
Take a Breath! The Ins and Outs of Ambient Air Quality!
In this competitive business climate it is important to keep informed on the latest buzz in industry. At Health Science Associates we want to stay ahead of the pack, constantly expanding and honing our skills. As a client or associate, we want you with us, a step ahead of the rest. If there is a topic you're interested in, let us know and we can make that our next newsletter!
Just Take a Breath! The Ins and Outs of Ambient Air Quality, from pollen to particulate, where to find the data!
We do it all day long, as a matter of fact, we can't help ourselves. If we aren't doing it, we have a huge problem. I'm talking about breathing. However, not even breathing comes without side effects. Outdoor and Indoor, natural and man made, there are a multitude of tiny irritants floating around waiting to catch a ride on the next wave of air rushing toward your respiratory system. This month, with the grass growing, the trees green and some late spring rains to boot, we are taking lots of calls from concerned employers fielding complaints with descriptions like itchy burning eyes, runny nose and a pounding headache. These complaints could be an Indoor Air Quality Issue yet, they could be common allergies. Whether you are planning an outing at the park, doing fence line monitoring for a high profile project or fielding questions on Indoor Air Quality, it's important to know the ins AND the outs of Ambient Air Quality. With limited time, we are just focusing on outside data today, perhaps we'll cover indoor air on a cold day in November.
Burning, itchy eyes? Let's start with the most common culprit, allergies. Seasonal allergies, otherwise known as Allergic Rhinitis or hay fever is caused by inhaling airborne particles, in this case allergans. If you are allergic to these allergans, the body produces histamines to combat the invader. The histamines are actually what causes the discomfort. There are 24-40 million Americans that suffer from an airborne allergy. A nice site that provides a forecast on what pollen is in or will be in the air in your area is on the Weather.com Pollen Forecast. This site also has some informational tidbits on what pollens are common in your area.
There are other types of irritants in air that can cause respiratory distress, especially in sensitive populations, such as young children, the elderly and people with asthma and other respiratory diseases. Sulfur Dioxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Particulate matter and ozone are a few of them. Two of the parameters, Ozone and particulate matter, are tracked regularly by local, state and federal government bodies such as the EPA and AQMD. One website dedicated to making that data available to the public is Airnow.gov. This site is fairly easy to navigate and offers an Air Quality forecast in the form of a Air Quality Index (AQI), Which is a number that converts airborne concentrations into a general level of Air quality. It also offers a color coded national map showing where the air is "Good" or "Moderate" etc., based on the AQI. If you are technically inclined and want to compare these numbers to an airborne concentration, they have a Calculator available that will convert the numbers from the AQI for you. For people living in Southern California, the AQMD Air Quality Map provides the same data but with very localized information.
Of particular interest in areas effected by wildfires is the presence of smoke. In the concentrations the general population is exposed to during wildfire season, healthy individuals will typically not see any serious health effects from smoke. Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic matter burns. The most irritating component of smoke is the fine particles. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses such as bronchitis. Fine particles can also aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a page on its website that shows smoke plumes from wildfires. It will help you identify areas of concern and issue warnings when smoke concentrations will effect an area.
Often when assessing a situation or complaint, you may need to see historical data. The EPA has a page that contains some historical data in the form of Air Quality Trends. There are several components tracked on this page and it is really interesting to see the changes in different locales over time. Keep in mind that heat is a compounding factor in air quality, due to a variety of reactions, it can elevate local levels of pollution and have it's own effect on the body. People in sensitive populations need to be especially aware of Air Quality Indexes during the summer months.
One pollutant of growing concern in our ambient air is formaldehyde. Anyone that has done a lot of air monitoring for formaldehyde is aware that there are consistent outdoor levels especially in urban areas. However, there is not a lot of current available data. ATSDR has a some nice data on sources of formaldehyde in air and the potential for human exposure, but there doesn't appear to be a website that is offering daily monitoring data like the other pollutants.
As we head into the hot summer months Air Quality Indexes tend to be higher. We hope we have given you some tools to protect your employees and families through awareness. As always, we hope you walk away with some useful links so you can access the data anytime.
Please join us in congratulating Ingrid Zubieta, CIH on passing her exam to become a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) this May. This is quite an accomplishment! Ingrid joined our company in October of 2010, coming to us from UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program. Ingrid's milestone brings the number of CIHs working with HSA to eight, with an expanse of expertise that is unrivaled.
We also want to Congratulate Jeff Wright on becoming a Registered Environmental Assessor I (REA). Jeff is our key person in our Northern California Location where we are continuing to expand our quality and capabilities.
HSA will host The AIHA webinar "The Future of OELs - A Global Perspective" on June 15th, 2011, from 11-1:30 p.m. PST. For more information see the training page on our website.
On June 23rd, 2011 we will be exhibiting at the SAME Camp Pendelton Day 2011. If you are in the neighborhood, come by and say hello!
We continue to provide a variety of training courses for the professionals in California, watch for our new Hazwoper Refresher course offering.