Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Going outside today? Just don't breathe in

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Jerren Griffin, 11, of the West End keeps cool in the Otto Armleder Memorial Aquatics Complex at Hanna Park in Over-the-Rhine on Tuesday.
([name of photographer] photo)
| ZOOM |
Don't breathe the air - at least not too much of it.

The smog alert issued Tuesday for "sensitive groups" of people - namely children, the elderly and adults with respiratory problems - is being upgraded to everyone today.

That means everyone should limit any sort of exertion in the heat outdoors because smog levels are so high that the air could irritate their lungs and eyes. The alert covers the four Ohio counties and three Kentucky counties of Greater Cincinnati.

Anyone jogging, mowing the grass or doing other physical activity today will likely notice that they become tired more quickly. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says there could be even greater, long-term effects of such activity on high smog days:

"Exertion generally causes you to breathe harder and faster. When this happens, more ozone is taken into your lungs, and ozone reaches tissues that are susceptible to injury," according to the EPA's smog Web site.

Smog is a form of air pollution made up mostly of ozone, a colorless gas that is good for the planet in the upper atmosphere, where it blocks out harmful radiation from the sun. Ozone is considerably less helpful when it forms on the ground, which happens when air pollution mixes with hot, stagnant air that is baked under the sun.

And the Ohio River Valley is particularly susceptible to smog.

Smog season under way: How smog develops
Ken Hinkel, a professor of earth sciences at the University of Cincinnati, said air pollution often becomes trapped in valleys.

"Anytime you have a city in a valley, there is the potential for pollutants to accumulate because the wind doesn't disperse it as easily," Hinkel said.

"And of course, all the freeways come through Cincinnati, so there is a huge concentration of automobile emissions." As well as coal-burning power plants, which are the other major sources of air pollution that can lead to smog.

The Ohio River Valley was carved out some 18,000 years ago when the Wisconsinan glacier stalled and melted in the area, swelling rivers and streams that then cut through the bedrock to form Cincinnati's hills and valleys.

Harry St. Clair, monitoring and analysis supervisor with the Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services, said the upgraded smog alert is relatively rare, happening on average about once a year. This week's smog alerts are the first issued in 2003.

"People should heed the smog alerts like they would any other alert," St. Clair said. "If someone wants to exercise, they shouldn't be out jogging at 4 p.m. because they shouldn't be breathing that stuff. They should run inside because air conditioning destroys ozone."

Most of Ohio is under the smog alert today, but only Cincinnati and Columbus have issued the alert for the general population.

The American Lung Association flunked the region for its air quality in a report issued in May, giving a grade of "F" to the four Ohio and three Kentucky counties surrounding Cincinnati.

Hamilton County will announce this afternoon whether the smog alert will be in effect for Thursday.


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