Air quality equals health of residents

By TaylorGleason

This year, the American Lung Association ranked Chicago the ninth most polluted city in the U.S.  for short-term particle pollution.

Janice Nolen at the ALA said Chicago’s position is “a little bit worse than last year in the 2008 report when [Chicago] ranked 13th.”

To fight the pollution, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan indicated her intention to sue a coal plant owned by the energy company Midwest Generation in late August. The state is backed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Jessica Diamond has lived near the MG plant for two years. Every day she sees “lots of kids running around, going to and from school.” It is easy to ignore the health risk that surrounds what appears to be a normal neighborhood because the pollution is not always apparent.

Nolen said particle pollution is made of anything visible or invisible in the air that doesn’t belong there.

Burning fuel such as coal is a prominent source of air pollution, which leads to a number of health problems, according to the ALA.

The EPA studied the effects of air pollution in nine cities that had high levels of particle pollution, but still followed current pollution policies. The studies found that more than 4,700 premature deaths occur each year due to polluted air.

Diamond said a group of activists filled her neighborhood last year to chastise MG for exceeding the lawful levels of pollution.

Asthma, diabetes and other chronic heart and lung diseases can worsen greatly in highly polluted areas, and “a heart attack could easily be caused by breathing high levels [of pollution] for a day or two,” Nolen said.

Also, the different ways people are exposed to pollution can cause different health consequences.

Nolen said that while two to three days of short-term exposure to high levels of pollution can cause a heart attack, long-term exposure to lower levels of pollution may cause lung cancer and the ALA is looking into this.

Other than particle pollution, air quality can also be graded by the amount of ozone gas or nitrogen dioxide gas present in the air. Nolen said that Chicago’s biggest problem, like most major cities, is particle pollution.

“Particle pollution has been found to increase the risk of early death,” Nolen said.

She added that for this reason some people choose to live in areas with less pollution.

“That’s a personal choice, but it’s also important to let your members of Congress and your state representatives know that you want [the air quality] to change,” Nolen said.

“We are ecstatic,” said Kimberly Wasserman, a coordinator at the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, a local group that fights for better living conditions in the neighborhood.

Wasserman added, “We never thought that [Madigan and the EPA] were going to actually do something, much less something that drastic.”

Wasserman and Nolen both said they hope to continue the battle against health-threatening pollution.

“Like most major cities, Chicago has its problems,” Nolen said.

“While pollution levels remain high in the city, Nolen suggests that people check pollution forecasts online or in television and radio broadcasts.

Computers monitor daily pollution levels in almost a third of all the counties in the U.S., Nolen said.

However, highways are always to be avoided as they have consistently high levels of pollution due to car exhausts and monitors don’t necessarily take that into account, she said.

Nolen suggests people stay indoors on days that have a high-pollution forecast.

“Find an activity or exercise inside to protect yourself from exposure to bad air,” Nolen said.