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Waiting to Inhale : Hot time in the city can mean too much ozone's in the air



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Writer's note: Asthma and ozone
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Krista Villarreal
Channel 5 meteorologist Krista Villarreal (’98 M.B.A.) keeps viewers informed about local air quality through the Air Pollution Watch and Warning Program

IT WAS SUMMERTIME IN A HOT CITY AND the living was supposed to be easy. But for some citizens in the Metroplex, that was far from true. Last summer, light wind, no cloud cover, high temperatures and low rainfall created more than just uncomfortable conditions. With 84 consecutive days of no rainfall and 46 days of 100-degree temperatures, a serious health threat was imminent.


An unhealthy concoction

The weather was a recipe for health problems, according to Troy Stuckey (’99 Ph.D.), an environmental scientist who is currently a regional pesticides enforcement coordinator at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“With the combination of morning pollution emissions and certain afternoon weather conditions, the Metroplex can bake up an unhealthy concoction that is an ozone threat,” he says.

The interaction of weather conditions with pollution emitted from vegetation and manmade sources, such as industrial plants, vehicles, factories and paints, results in high ozone levels and poor air quality.

Stuckey explains that ozone in the stratosphere protects life from dangerous ultraviolet rays, but at ground level it can be harmful.

Ozone makes people — especially those with respiratory illnesses — more susceptible to disease. And it causes difficulty in breathing by irritating the lungs’ lining, causing the muscle in the lung to contract and breathing tubes to constrict.


Meeting of the minds

Troy Stuckey
Environmental scientist Troy Stuckey (’99 Ph.D.) coordinated a network of experts to help create the ozone warning program.

How to warn residents about the unseen threat of ozone was an issue that weather professionals and representatives of public health and environmental agencies gathered to discuss in the fall of 1999.

Joining in the discussions were three Metroplex participants with UNT ties: Stuckey, meteorologist Krista Villarreal (’98 M.B.A.) of KXAS-TV Channel 5 and Don Wall, the WFAA-TV Channel 8 environmental reporter and current UNT environmental ethics graduate student.

Working with government agencies, weather experts and health organizations, the UNT-connected participants helped to create the Air Pollution Watch and Warning Program.

Don Wall's
  The ozone warning program benefited from Don Wall’s expertise as an environmental reporter for Channel 8.

The program advises North Texas residents about the quality of air to expect each day. Advisories classify air quality from good to bad, using colors to represent different levels of health threats. Green represents a good air quality day (low ozone levels); yellow, moderate; orange, unhealthy for sensitive groups; red, unhealthy for everyone; and purple, very unhealthy.


Spreading the word

Since Stuckey, Villarreal and Wall helped to launch the program in May 2000, Metroplex residents have had the opportunity to make informed choices about outdoor exposure.

People who have immune deficiencies or respiratory diseases can take special care during times of high ozone exposure. Sports enthusiasts can choose to take shelter inside until the ozone threat abates.

Coaches can monitor the pollution warning system to determine if children should play outdoor sports. Senior citizens who garden can choose to plant indoors or in a greenhouse.

Today, the program is a regular part of the weather forecast on Channel 5 and Channel 8. It is also reported on the Spanish language station Telemundo 52 and other Metroplex television outlets.

Not only is the warning program broadcast on television and radio, but it is also disseminated via electronic signs along area highways and through the local web site DFW clean air.

“Before this program was started, everyone was using different verbiage to describe ozone days,” Villarreal says. “Now, concerned viewers call me and ask what color the day will be.”

Wall says the program may prove beneficial to the environment as well as to residents.

“When people gain greater awareness of the ecological problems affecting them, they tend to advocate for change. That’s when progress can be made.”


Common ground

Now that the Air Pollution Watch and Warning Program is in place, the UNT-connected participants continue to use their expertise in educating and informing the public about environmental issues.

When Stuckey leaves his office on Tuesday afternoons, he drives to UNT, where he teaches an environmental class. He arrives at the classroom, positions himself in front of a board and teaches about ozone.

On a typical day, Wall stands outside in front of a camera, adjusting to the bright sun. Lights flash and he begins to report on the air quality in Dallas.

That same day might find Villarreal standing in front of a blue screen, smiling into a studio camera. Soon, a graph will appear and she’ll tell the Metroplex audience that it’s a green day. This day in the city, all is well with the ozone.


Air quality index



Unusually sensitive people should consider limiting prolonged outdoor exertion.

Unhealthy for
sensitive groups

Active children and adults and people
with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.


Active children and adults and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid prolonged exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Very unhealthy

Active children and adults and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid all exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.


Environmental Protection Agency Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards.



Breathless in the Metroplex

Metroplex runner Alex Horton sat in a restaurant, sweat dripping off his forehead. The room seemed to spin as he tried to regain his balance. Running was a passion for Horton, but on this day, his passion became his pain.

Horton, 54, remembers the day he had the dizzy spell that stopped him in his tracks.

“I believed it was a combination of things,” he says. He thought humidity, heat and lack of water caused his problem.

“Many people don’t realize ozone contributes to their breathlessness when exercising,” says Alan Stockard, associate professor and division chief of primary care sports medicine in the Department of Family Medicine at the UNT Health Science Center at Fort Worth. “Humidity should not cause breathing problems.”

According to Stockard, we actually breathe better when the air has moisture in it. And he says if a person has had enough water to drink, high heat should not cause a breathing problem either. Difficulty breathing is typically caused by ozone, high pollen, extreme cold and illness.

The safest thing to do during a high-ozone day is to exercise indoors on a treadmill or stationary bike, says Stockard. If you don’t have indoor access, wear some sort of mask to decrease the amount of ozone exposure while exercising outdoors, he says.


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