Mirage above roadways, workers braving the heat and everybody trying to stay cool are all familiar sights during a heat wave. But heat waves also bring an unseen danger, which can make breathing difficult. Ground-level ozone and other pollutant concentrations can exceed healthy levels, making breathing difficult.
"Ozone is an irritant to the lungs," said Dr. Matthew Sadof, of Baystate Medical Center. "It's also the number of small particles which are floating in the air. Some of the highest concentrations of small particles are found on days just like today."
For the fifth consecutive day, Thursday's high temperatures soared into the 90s across the Pioneer Valley. This is already the fourth official heat wave recorded for the year, with the most in one year being seven.
Ground-level ozone forms when pollutants from cars, buses, lawn equipment, and gas stations interact in the presence of strong sunlight. Hot, stagnant days like those endured this week can also keep these particles trapped near the surface, further enhancing the problem.
"If you're short of breath, and you feel that you're getting a little dizzy, you should sit down, get out of the sun, have a big glass of water," Sadof said. "If you find that's not helping you and you're still short of breath and still breathing fast, this may be a sign that your asthma was triggered."
The Environmental Protection Agency also says that New England has dealt with 13 air quality alert days so far this year. Air quality alert days are typically issued when ozone concentrations are expected to exceed 0.075 part per million.
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