Colleen Bridger, MPH, PhD. (CB), health director for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, joined Mae Escobar (ME) in a candid conversation on BlogTalkRadio to reveal why the quality of the air matters to the health of Bexar County residents. The Metropolitan Health District, best recognized by the public for its food inspections, disease control and immunization, also provides environmental monitoring as one of its many services to maintain a healthy community.
Dr. Bridger, responsible for managing more than two dozen programs and 400 health professionals, is a national-recognized speaker, trainer and innovation expert, has more than 20 years of experience in development, community and improvement. She earned a doctorate in health studies research from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte and had previously served three different county health districts in North Carolina prior to coming to San Antonio.
ME: What are some of the adverse health effects stemming from poor air quality?
CB: Ozone can make it difficult to breathe. It can cause coughing; inflame and damage the airways. It can aggravate lung diseases, such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and it can make lungs more susceptible to infection. Ozone can cause adverse effects on healthy people, but can be much more serious for people with lung diseases, such as asthma.
ME: Why do we need to worry about these health issues in San Antonio?
CB: Summer days in Texas can be conducive for ozone formation as high-pressure systems dominate our local weather patterns, giving us clear skies and stagnant winds. Ozone mainly forms in the highest concentrations on warm, sunny days with light winds, which allows more of the pollutant to form and accumulate.
Many people engage in physical exercise to be healthy, but individuals must consider health benefits when making choices about whether to follow the EPA's recommendation to limit exercise outdoors and stay indoors when concentrations of ozone in the air are elevated.
ME: Who is most at risk for developing health problems as a result of our air quality?
CB: People most at risk from breathing air containing ozone include people with asthma, children, older adults, and people who are active outdoors, especially outdoor workers. Children are at greatest risk from exposure to ozone because their lungs are still developing and they are more likely to be active outdoors when ozone levels are high. Children are also more likely than adults to have asthma.
ME: Dr. Bridger, what can I do to protect my family from poor air quality?
CB: A couple of things: You can limit driving and idling; instead, look at carpooling, combine errands, using public transportation, biking or walking when it's not too hot. You should refuel your vehicle in the late afternoon or evening and make sure not to top off the tank. Keep your vehicle maintained, including proper tire pressure. Maintain your yard equipment, including changing the oil and replacing air filters regularly. Also consider using tools without motors. Hand tools such as shears, edgers, and push mowers are lightweight, quiet, and easy to use, and do not generate emissions. Do not burn yard waste. Do not burn things in trash cans outdoors and use paint and cleaning products with less or zero VOCs.
ME: How do we know high ozone level is bad for health of our citizens?
CB: So, the EPA examines hundreds of scientific studies and convenes air quality and health subject matter experts every five years to determine what level of air pollution is safe for the general public and vegetation.
ME: Where are the air ozone monitors in Bexar County?
CB: There are three ozone monitors in the Bexar County area – one monitor located at Camp Bullis, a second monitor at Marshall High School and third monitor at Calaveras Lake. The monitor at Camp Bullis has registered ozone data above the federal standard and therefore leaves us vulnerable to being designated by the feds as a "smog city." Once an area is designated federal regulations are in place to ensure compliance with the federal standard.
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