State Environmental Officials Remind Residents of Online Tool to Access Continuous Air Quality Readings and Forecasts
BOSTON - With the approach of warmer weather, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) reminds residents that current air quality readings and forecasts for ground-level ozone and fine particles are available and updated throughout the day at MassAIR, an application located on MassDEP's web site. Ozone is an important health consideration, especially during the summer months, and fine particles can also cause unhealthy air any season.
"The MassAIR site provides an easy and useful tool for Massachusetts residents who, for health reasons or for planning their outdoor activities, need to know about today's air quality in their region," said MassDEP Commissioner David W. Cash. "The site also offers a forecast for the following day and what to expect for air quality in each region of the Commonwealth."
MassAIR is a tool that MassDEP developed to provide immediate public access to updated air quality data from the state's network of monitoring stations around the Commonwealth, allowing anyone to plan strenuous outdoor activities while avoiding times when pollutant levels are high. In addition to MassAIR, anyone can sign up to receive daily e-mails updating the air quality forecast at http://www.enviroflash.info/signup.cfm. Residents without access to the internet or e-mails can call 1-800-882-1497 and hear a daily report on air quality.
Ground-level ozone is created when hydrocarbons - found in gasoline, solvents, paints and many household products - chemically react on hot, sunny days with nitrogen oxides, a group of pollutants produced through fuel combustion.
Ozone affects everyone, but some are more sensitive than others. Numerous scientific studies have linked ozone exposure to coughing and throat irritation, increased sensitivity to allergens, uncomfortable sensations in the chest, lung lining inflammation and reduced lung function. According to the EPA, when ground-level ozone reaches unhealthy levels, children are at highest risk because they tend to spend a lot of time playing outdoors in warmer weather and are more likely to have asthma. People with respiratory diseases, like emphysema or bronchitis, are also vulnerable, even at lower ozone levels.
Fine particles, on the other hand, are tiny bits of soot, dust and liquid droplets from vehicle exhaust, industrial production, combustion and wood-burning. These fine particles can reach unhealthy concentrations at any time of year. Summer is when fine particle concentrations tend to be highest, often on the same days when ozone concentrations are high.
Numerous scientific studies have linked fine particles with asthma, chronic bronchitis, coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, heart attacks and premature death. Those most susceptible to fine particle-related health problems are children, because their lungs are still developing, the elderly, particularly those with or prone to cardiovascular disease, and people with asthma or other respiratory ailments.
Otherwise healthy adults who exert themselves during periods of elevated ozone and/or fine particle concentrations also may be affected because they can breathe more rapidly and deeply while working or exercising.
The air quality in Massachusetts - based on decades of monitoring - has greatly improved, thanks to statewide and regional efforts to cut emissions from power plants, incinerators, cars and other vehicles and industrial sources. Pollutant levels currently meet federal standards, with one exception: Ozone levels do not meet the standard on Martha's Vineyard. For recent air quality trends, go to the latest "Air Quality Annual Survey" (page 13): http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dep/air/priorities/12aqrpt.pdf
The MassAIR web site contains a number of user-friendly features, including:
- Easily customized graphs that display hourly data for the most recent two days and daily values for the last week, month and year by monitoring site and pollutant - making it possible to identify air quality trends in a particular location or region;
- Information on a variety of air pollutants and standards, health and environmental effects, and long-term air quality trends.
MassDEP is responsible for ensuring clean air and water, safe management and recycling of solid and hazardous wastes, timely cleanup of hazardous waste sites and spills and the preservation of wetlands and coastal resources.