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Ohio State doctor warns of health issues stemming from poor air quality

A new wave of smoke from Canadian wildfires has yet again blanketed central Ohio and much of the Midwest.

The thick haze has reduced visibility and it could also pose a health risk, especially to those most sensitive to air pollution.

The air quality index spiked to over 200 in some parts of the greater Columbus area Wednesday.

The current air quality alert for particle pollution is being extended through Thursday and it will likely be clearing enough by the weekend to be moderate on the AQI scale. An ozone pollution alert will also be added.

"What that means is that we're borderline unhealthy for all folks, including healthy folks," said Dr. Loren Wold, Associate Dean for Research Operations and Compliance in the College of Medicine and a professor in the Department of Surgery at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center.

According to Dr. Wold, these are the worst values for airborne particulate matter Ohio has experienced in 20 years.

"The values today are like standing behind a diesel engine that's running," Dr. Wold said.

Dr. Wold advises that most people, especially those with pre-existing conditions, should limit their time outdoors on days, like Wednesday, with a poor air quality index. If anyone needs to go outside, then they should make sure to wear a mask.

"So it's well known that folks can have acute effects or things that pop up quickly in the lungs, which is shown by breathing problems, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing but also cardiac events," Dr. Wold said. "There's a lot of literature showing that on days of heavy air pollution, there's a spike in admission to the hospital emergency department for sudden cardiac events, arrhythmias, hypertension, etc."

In addition to limiting time outside and wearing a mask when outside, Dr. Wold said it's also a good time to check your home air filters and make sure they're clean.

Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.