‘Orange’ air pollution alert in Delaware Valley

     Children enjoy the warm weather in the playground at Franklin Square in Philadelphia. Friday will be another

    Children enjoy the warm weather in the playground at Franklin Square in Philadelphia. Friday will be another "orange" action day in the Delaware Valley. (George Widman/AP Photo)

    This is the time of year when smog sends some kids to the emergency room.

    Thursday and Friday are “orange” ozone action days in the Delaware Valley. That means the air could be unhealthful for sensitive groups, including very young children, older adults and all people with respiratory problems or a lung disease, such as asthma.

    “They may complain of chest pains, they may say their chest is tight, or their chest hurts, you may actually hear them coughing more, they may appear sluggish where they just can’t keep up with kids,” said Evan Weiner, interim director of Emergency Medicine at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.

    Weiner asks his patients with asthma to limit their time outdoors when air quality is poorest. They have an increased risk of having a spasm of the lower airways that might make it tough to get air in and out.

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    “Ozone and particulate matter can trigger their symptoms causing bronchoconstriction where their airways narrow, inflaming their airways,” he said. “Especially if they are doing exercise outside, they are breathing a lot this matter down into their lower lungs.”

    Smog — or ozone — doesn’t come out of smoke stacks and tailpipes, but it does begin with those dirty particles.

    “Those primary pollutants sort of cook over the course of the day, in the hot sunny weather. Especially if the air is relatively stagnant, it allows pollutants to build up,” said Kevin Stewart, director of environmental health at the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic.

    Vehicles cause much of the air pollution across the region, but there are many ways to keep pollution from worsening, he said.

    “Carpool, do trip-chaining, take public transit, postpone some activities like refueling your car until later in the day after the sun’s gone down, adjust the thermostat in the house, if the power plant’s not working as hard, the power plant isn’t putting out as much air pollution as it ordinarily would,” Stewart said.

    The Lung Association also has an application for mobile phones that allows users to look ahead at the air-quality forecast.

    Sean Green, manager of air quality for the Delaware Valley Air Quality Partnership, said on the worst smog days, you might also skip cutting the grass.

    Older gas-powered garden equipment doesn’t have air-quality controls — and can spew unhealthful emissions.

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