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THURSDAY, JUNE 28, 2007
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Amanda Stricklin injects Michael Glover at the Decatur Allergy Center.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Amanda Stricklin injects Michael Glover at the Decatur Allergy Center.

Beware of the air
Blame drought, fires in Georgia for pollution, allergy symptoms

By Catherine Godbey
cgodbey@decaturdaily.com ∑ 340-2441

If you have had trouble breathing this summer, there is a reason.

Scientists would tell you the high temperatures result in a stable atmosphere that increases the amount of fine particulate matter in the atmosphere. In everyday terms, air pollution is high.

This summer, in comparison with previous years, North Alabama is experiencing an increase in the amount of air pollutants.

Scientists define these air pollutants as fine particulate matter. The everyday person defines fine particulate matter as dust, dirt and soot.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management measures the levels of fine particulate matter and the ozone, which is the principal ingredient in smog. This measurement determines air quality.

Classification of air quality extends from good to very unhealthy. North Alabama has spent most of the days this summer in the moderate and unhealthy for sensitive groups categories, a rarity for this area.

Danny Shea, the Natural Resources director for Huntsville, said, "Fine particulate matter is measured because it penetrates most deeply in the lungs."

Along with dust, dirt and soot, emissions from industries and car exhaust contribute to the amount of fine particulate matter.

Everyday pollution combined with the May fires and the drought has negatively impacted North Alabama's air quality.

"This is not a good year for air quality," Shea said.

The fires that raged throughout southern Georgia in May increased the number of air pollutants.

Chris Howard, planning chief for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management Air Division, attributed this increase to the smoke and ash the fires produced.

On a day when smoke from the fires engulfed North Alabama residents, Huntsville's Natural Resources Division measured the air quality level.

"We had the highest fine particulate matter we've ever seen," Shea said.

"We advised everyone to limit their outdoor exertion and asthmatics to limit the time they spent outside."

Since the fires subsided, the air pollutants have returned to moderate levels, but they remain higher than usual because of the drought.

"The atmosphere has a lot less moisture than normal and this keeps the pollutants in the air," Howard explained.

Moisture, specifically rain, is needed for pollutants to wash out of the atmosphere, Howard said. A clean atmosphere means easier breathing.

Until that happens, many people are looking for relief from doctors. Dr. Mahipal Ravipati of Decatur Allergy Clinic has noticed an increase in patients.

"With the recent episodes of the fires," he said, "our regular patients came in with acute episodes and we also had a lot of new patients."

Amanda Stricklin, a Decatur Allergy Clinic nurse, said even people who don't normally have allergies have had problems this season.

Many of the problems result from the quantity of pollutants in the air. Ravipati stressed that the air pollutants, which he refers to as non-specific irritants, are not allergens. The non-specific irritants have an effect on patients that closely resemble allergic symptoms, including enlarged glands. Doctors treat patients with non-specific irritant symptoms with medications, or in extreme cases, a steroid shot.

To avoid symptoms, Ravipati advises people to minimize their exposure to the irritants.

People should limit their outside activities and work on
outdoor projects late in the evening or in the morning, before 7.

Of course, if symptoms persist, Ravipati recommends seeing a doctor.

"Thankfully, we are not looking at a long-term problem," Ravipati said. "We just have to wait until nature takes care of it."

Thursday forecast

The Alabama Department of Environmental Managementís forecast.

  • Air quality index projects the fine particulate matter level at 54. This places the air quality in the moderate category.

  • Air quality index listed the ozone level at 45. This places the air quality in the good category.

  • To check the air quality index daily, log on to www.adem.state.al.us/ftproot/air/HSVForecast.JPG.

    - Catherine Godbey

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