From swimming pools to bicycles, parents are understandably always on the lookout for potential threats to their children's health. Yet amid the numerous, daily worries, parents often neglect one constant in our lives: the air we breathe.
In 2008, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality released a study that evaluated over 5,000 asthma events over a 21-month period and found that on days with elevated levels of particulate matter pollution (PM10), asthma attacks and asthma symptoms increased nearly 14 percent in children aged 5-18.
“No one really knows what causes asthma in children, but we do know that air pollution can trigger asthma attacks and increase the risk of respiratory problems in children,” then-ADEQ director Steve Owens said in a 2008 press release. “This study shows the connection between poor air quality and asthma attacks in children.”
And even if your child doesn't have respiratory problems, kids are at a greater risk from air pollution since their lungs are still developing and they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, according to ADEQ.
While parents cannot hermetically seal their children when they go outside to play, the Yuma County Health Services District has implemented ADEQ's color-coded flag program, making it easier for parents to identify high pollution levels and what that day's air quality means to their children's health.
“We have a set of four different flags and depending on the color, people can monitor the air quality throughout the day,” said Gloria Cisneros, Yuma County Tobacco Prevention program coordinator. “And they can use it to determine if they want to limit the amount of exposure they have.”
According to Cisneros, the flags are classified into the following four colors with a corresponding level of danger depending on the level of PM10 in the air.
• Green means the air quality is good and air pollution poses little or no risk.
• Yellow signifies the air quality is acceptable. However, Cisneros said highly sensitive people may experience adverse health effects and might want to limit their outdoor exposure.
• Orange indicates that even though the general public may not be affected at this level, people with lung disease, older adults and children are at a greater risk from exposure and should limit their outdoor activity.
• Red denotes an unhealthy level of PM10 for all populations regardless of your present health.
The flags are flown at 13 sites in Yuma County, including schools and other agencies, and are changed based on the level indicated by ADEQ's air quality index.
And even though you can't control the daily air quality, the following are steps you can take to reduce you and your child's risk during periods of elevated pollution:
• Keep doors and windows closed.
• When air quality improves, open up and air out the place.
• Reduce activities such as burning candles and tobacco smoking.
• Wipe floors and hard surfaces that will retain dust.
• Limit or avoid time outdoors.
• Have your medication on hand.
• Follow your asthma management plan.
For more information on Yuma County's flag program, contact Gloria Cisneros at 317-4580. For more information on ADEQ's Air Quality Index, visit ADEQ.gov or airnow.gov.