Holiday weekend to bring dangerous air, heat combo
by Matt Shinall
Jul 01, 2011 | 2435 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As July Fourth approaches, heat will rise and air quality may decline for metro-Atlanta counties. Although out of sight of the Atlanta skyline, residents of Bartow County can still be affected by high smog levels especially as holiday travelers take to the interstate.

A double-edged sword, warm weather and poor air quality can make for a dangerous combination. Authorities warn holiday revelers to be safe in their weekend celebrations. Public Information Officer with Northwest Georgia Public Health Logan Boss detailed some of the dangers regarding warm weather.

"People get heat-related illnesses when their body's temperature control system gets overloaded. Normally, your body cools itself from sweating but extreme heat conditions affect this process and cause your body temperature to rise rapidly," Boss said. "With heat strokes, which is the most serious heat-related illness, your temperature can jump to 105 or 106 degrees within a few minutes. Heat stroke can kill you or cause permanent disabilities. Heat exhaustion, on the other hand, is a less serious form of heat-related illness but we see a lot of that. We see it a lot of time when people have been exposed to high temperatures for several days and not staying hydrated."

Boss advises everyone to protect themselves from the midday sun when UV rays are at their peak to avoid the risk of melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer. He also suggests staying well hydrated and refraining from alcoholic or caffeinated beverages unless interspersed with lots of water.

"There are proper steps that everybody needs to take to avoid common summer-related injuries and illnesses. One that we've already seen problems with this summer, is people need to remember not to leave children in hot cars. Even though outside temperatures may be in the 70s, inside a car it could be 20 degrees warmer and that could happen in a matter of minutes," Boss said, adding a reminder to care for elderly or at-risk individuals. "Elderly people and those with weakened immune systems are more likely to suffer from extreme or prolonged exposure to the heat."

As for low air quality, a recent decline has come on the heels of warmer weather after two weeks of sporadic showers and thunderstorms contributing to cooler temperatures and lower ozone and/or particle pollution levels. The month of June began with 14 days of consecutive air quality alerts as monitored and issued by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division. Rain and cooler weather in the middle of the month did, however, prevent any alerts from being issued in the past two weeks until Code Orange alerts were issued for both Thursday and today.

Brian Carr, director of communication for the Clean Air Campaign, explained what a Code Orange alert signifies and what lies ahead for metro-Atlanta's holiday weekend.

"[Code Orange] means that the air quality outside is deemed unhealthy for sensitive groups, that would include children and the elderly and those with conditions making it difficult to breathe," Carr said. "We have had a little bit of a reprieve over the last couple of weeks from having incidents of unhealthy air quality in the metro region here, but it looks like we're having a little bit of a warm spell coming through without some relief, in terms of precipitation and cooler temperatures. So, that could make for a hot weekend here."

Carr noted that although summer heat compounds air pollution creating smog and ground level ozone, the Fourth of July weekend benefits from less commuters entering the roadway because half of all smog forming emissions come from vehicle exhausts. He suggests for travelers to lessen their drive time this weekend by any means necessary, including remaining well informed with the help of Georgia Navigator or calling 511.

For those staying at home or planning to spend time outside in or near Atlanta, Carr advises those with sensitive respiratory systems to keep apprised of the air quality. Exposure to ground level ozone can cause a burning sensation on the inside of the lungs, inflame the airways and make breathing difficult. Children, elderly, those with asthma or other chronic lung diseases are asked to take breaks from being outside when a Code Orange has been issued.

"It's important to pay attention to what's going on with air quality outside when you're going to be out for long periods of time," Carr said. "Over the course of a day, you may have plenty of opportunities to have some fun outside and elevate your heart rate but just make sure you give yourself a break every so often.

"Keep in mind what the air quality forecasts are looking like. The best way to do that is sign up for smog alerts from the Clean Air Campaign, or hop on our website at cleanaircampaign.org, to find out what's going on."