How Northeast Ohio's Bad Year For Air Quality Affects You

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Cuyahoga County has had 11 air quality alerts this year compared to four last year.

The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) issues the alerts, which are sent out when ozone exceeds acceptable levels in the region. Ozone is the main ingredient in smog, and an alert represents the ozone levels exceeding a 70 parts per billion standard set by the US EPA.

An alert in Northeast Ohio usually means air quality levels are “unhealthy for sensitive groups” – children, the elderly, and those with breathing difficulties.

And while the number of alerts this year is a big jump from 2017, the region experiences fewer poor air quality days than it used to. NOACA Air Quality Planner Tim Kovach says that while the area’s ozone levels are improving, we’re still behind the national average.

“We’re not continuing to get that type of substantial improvement year after year because the weather conditions are often conducive for ozone to form,” said Kovach. “We’ve had some very warm summers year after year, and when that occurs, it makes it difficult to keep those ozone levels under wraps.”

Emissions from cars and industry are getting better, but as the Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Sumita Khatri points out, “there is still quite a bit of traffic pollution. Even as the emissions are better, your traffic and congestion is getting worse.”

























Surrounding counties are not faring much better. Lake County has had nine ozone alerts, compared to six last year. Geauga County has had nine as well, compared to four in 2017.

“Because of the way the wind blows in our region, the pollution is typically released in Cuyahoga County, Lorain County, and Summit County,” said Kovach. “We usually see the highest levels of ozone in the collar counties to the east and northeast of Cuyahoga.”

How Does Poor Air Quality Affect Our Health?

According to Dr. Khatri, who co-directs the Clinic’s Asthma Center, there are immediate effects – irritation to nose, eyes, and throat, for example.

“But there can also be a lag effect,” said Dr. Khatri. “So later in the day – eight hours or into the evening, people may not realize why is it that they’re feeling poorly.”

Poor air quality can also trigger asthma, allergies, sinus problems, and shortness of breath. Humidity and commuter traffic can affect other systems too, said Khatri.

“These are all the things that are adding to problems of people who have chronic respiratory diseases but also other diseases – cardiac diseases, neurological diseases,” said Khatri. “This is not just a lung issue, but a multiple-medical issue.”

Tips to Reduce the Pollution You Create

  • Drive less – carpool, or use public transit

  • Put gas in your car after 8pm – If you do this after the sun goes down, Kovach says, “you reduce the risk that contributes to ozone formation.”

  • For those in sensitive population groups (elderly, children, people with breathing difficulties), change your schedule so that you can be outside in the morning rather than later in the day, when air quality may be worse


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