I was pleased to see that the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report notes that the country’s air is getting cleaner—a perfect way to kick off Air Quality Awareness Week (April 29 through May 3). The report, based on EPA findings from 2009 through 2011, should not only indicate a healthier U.S. public, but also a savings of billions of dollars in reduced medical costs.
As an EPA environmental health researcher, cardiologist, and promoter of our Green Heart initiative to raise awareness of the links between air quality and cardiovascular health, it was rewarding to note the many Agency efforts that have contributed to the improved state of the country’s air quality.
EPA has lead many research efforts to examine the effects of environmental irritants—such as dust, smoke, and smog (which is most prevalent during the approaching summer months)—in the air. Our studies have resulted in recommendations on actions that people predisposed to asthma and heart-related diseases can take to protect their health.
One valuable tool is EPA’s color-coded Air Quality Index, which provides guidelines for at-risk individuals for
being outdoors or exercising in relation to air quality. A similar program has been introduced at local schools called the School Flag Program. The colored flags displayed on school yard flagpoles alert students, teachers, coaches and the community to the air quality forecast for the day.
According to 2010 EPA data (the most recent year available), benefits from improved air quality helped to avoid 1.7 million asthma attacks and reduced hospital admissions and emergency room visits significantly. Such impacts also yield major savings of medical expenses across the country.
So, as we enter the summer season when air quality issues are common, remember to acquaint yourself with the Air Quality Index and other EPA tools, rely on their guidance to assist you in staying well, and enjoy your summer!
About the Author: Wayne E. Cascio, MD is the Director of EPA’s Environmental Public Health Division, a Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Fellow of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. His research explores the effects of air pollution on the heart and blood vessels.