Coping with hot steamy weather and bad air quality

Diane's granddaughters at camp

Summer is a glorious, too-short experience here in Maine. One of the best places to take advantage of beautiful weather is out on one of our many beautiful lakes. Those are my granddaughters in the picture, about to go kayaking with their parents.

On hot steamy days, a leisurely paddle may be a good thing to do, but you probably don’t want to exert yourself. That’s because with the heat and humidity comes increased ozone. When you live in a part of the world that doesn’t get a lot of heat and humidity — like Maine — it may not take much to feel the effects.

What exactly is ozone and why does it matter?

Simply put, ozone is a gas that is found in the upper atmosphere and on the ground. Ozone in the upper atmosphere helps shield us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which is a good thing.

Ground-level ozone is a bad thing. It’s produced when the pollutants nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react in sunlight and stagnant air — conditions we are now experiencing. Nox and VOCs come from natural (coniferous forests) and man-made sources, including emissions from factory smokestacks and the tailpipes of our cars.

If you are someone who is sensitive to air quality, you want to pay special attention to ozone levels. If you have a lung condition, such as asthma, COPD, emphysema, or bronchitis, your symptoms can get worse with increasing ozone levels. Even if you don’t have a preexisting condition, it can make it harder for you to breathe, especially if you’re exerting yourself.

People at highest risk:

  • Someone with asthma or another lung (or heart) condition
  • Someone with a weakened immune system
  • Older people
  • Babies and young children
  • Anyone who is outside doing something that requires a lot of exertion

If you’d like to keep track of the air quality on a regular basis, you might want to sign up for EnviroFlash. I heard about it from Rebecca Boulos, the Executive Director of  Maine’s Public Health Association.  When you sign up, you get an email alert from the EPA when the air quality is expected to be low in your area.

You can get more information and subscribe to EnviroFlash notifications on the EPA website. Stay cool and I hope you have a wonderful summer. Here’s one last piece of advice from the whole family. Take it easy and have fun.

Family kayaking

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.