Symptoms and the severity of the effect of poor air quality can vary greatly from person to person. Some health effects of poor air quality include difficulty breathing, chest pains, coughing, and headaches. People with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, or other upper respiratory illness are often more susceptible to adverse health effects caused by poor air quality. Determining the quality of the air on a daily basis is difficult for the average person. To help the public understand the quality of the air the Environmental Protection Agency created the Air Quality Index (AQI). To access information for Kansas, go to the AirNow website.
Particulate Matter (PM) is a broad classification of non-gaseous pollutants that consist of very fine solid particles and liquid droplets or aerosols. Examples of these solid particles can include dust, dirt, soot, and particles in smoke. Some particles are directly emitted into the air from sources such as vehicles, factories, construction sites, tilled fields, unpaved roads, stone crushing, and burning of wood. Other particles may be formed in the air when gases from burning fuels react with sunlight and water vapor such as fuel combustion in motor vehicles or at power plants. Particles can be suspended in the air for long periods of time and vary in size.
PM causes a wide variety of health and environmental issues. Health issues include aggravated asthma; respiratory symptoms such as coughing and difficult breathing; chronic bronchitis; decreased lung function and premature death. Elevated PM concentrations result in increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits for people with heart and lung disease. Health problems for sensitive people increase if they are exposed to high levels of PM for several days in a row.
Ground-level ozone triggers a variety of health problems including asthma attacks, reduced lung capacity, and increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis. Ozone can cause permanent lung damage after long-term exposure. Ozone can irritate lung airways and cause inflammation. Other symptoms include wheezing, coughing, pain when taking a deep breath, and breathing difficulties during exercise or outdoor activities. People with respiratory problems are most vulnerable to elevated ozone levels.