EPA raising air quality standards, designed to reduce heart and asthma attacks

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By: Michael Wang <mwang@hilite.org>

Junior Fatimah Hameed was diagnosed with asthma the summer after seventh grade. She said she realized she had asthma when she found it increasingly difficult to breathe in Carmel Middle School, which has carpeted walls and could thus trap dust.

Air quality can negatively affect people like Hameed with asthma or other respiratory illnesses.

Nurse Carol Gelatt said, “With a pollutant in the air, that causes an irritant to those airways and causes more of an allergic reaction and therefore causes some tightening and increased mucous in those airways, which (makes) it difficult to pass air in and out.”

However, Hameed’s condition may be exacerbated, because according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Web site, the air in hundreds of U.S. counties, including Hamilton, is too dirty to breathe.

The new EPA standard will lower the allowable concentration of ozone, commonly known as smog, in the air to no more than 75 parts per billion, compared with the old standard of 80. Health experts feel this new standard can significantly reduce heart and asthma attacks from breathing smog-clogged air.

Maintenance foreman Michael Wyatt is in charge of air handling at this school. “There is like a cube of air that they measure and there are 80 parts in that cube of air. That is particles per million,” he said.

Wyatt elaborated that though there is a change to the EPA standards, it will be a minor one.

Hameed said, “You might not notice (the change), but I think to a certain degree it definitely will (help). Maybe if we don’t even realize it, it will still be affecting us and still be improving our own health.”

When the EPA listed the counties in Indiana that contain air that is too dirty to breathe, which included Hamilton County, it only applied to outside air. However, this still is pertinent to the high school.

Wyatt said, “We bring in 30 percent outside air. That is fresh air into the building and that would affect (the air quality). I mean, if they cleaned up the (outside) air a little better, it would make it better (at this school). (The other 70 percent of air) is re-circulated air into the building.”

However, Wyatt said there is no way to evaluate the air quality here.

“We rarely evaluate it. There is no testing you can do,” he said.

Some upcoming factors may affect air quality as well.

According to Wyatt, there is a construction project that is speculated to begin after spring break which could affect the air quality.

However, Wyatt said the air quality should not be affected too much here.

“We built the Freshman Center. There shouldn’t be anything that (the workers) do to cause any (bad air),” he said.

Other factors that may involve air quality here concern the switch from heating to cooling.

Wyatt said, “We have a chilled water system. We have a cooling tower that chills the machine down, so that is winterized, so that is drained out. In the spring, we fill that back up and switch over. We can do it within 24 hours. When the temperature gets above 55 degrees at night on a constant basis and above 60 degrees during the day, we will have it.” However, Wyatt said this switch won’t affect the air quality at this school.

As to how EPA is raising the standard of the quality of air, Gelatt said, “Any type of improvement would be a good improvement.”