Link between Ozone and Health: Center Staffer Speaks to Regional Child Care Health Consultants

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sixteen regional child care health consultants learned about the link between air pollution and health Feb. 9 when Shelia Armstrong, air quality outreach coordinator at the Center for the Environment at Catawba College, spoke to the Central Region’s Child Care Health Consultants’ Association in Burlington.

Diane Fleming, child care health consultant through Smart Start Rowan, noted the importance of the information Armstrong shared. “Child care facilities are required by law to abide by specific restrictions on ozone alert days,” she says. “So this information is important to us because we share that with the child care providers in every facility we serve.”

On Code Orange days, state guidelines indicate that children should spend only one hour outdoors between noon and 8 p.m.  On Code Red days, the time is reduced to 15 minutes. On Code Purple days, they should not play outside at all.

The consultants who attended came from Mecklenburg, Chatham, Orange, Person, Wake, Robeson, Guilford, Alamance, Rowan and Moore counties. Fleming estimates that more than 2,000 child care facilities in North Carolina have the potential to be impacted by the information Armstrong shared. Guilford, Wake and Mecklenburg counties alone have 500-700 licensed facilities each.

 “The presentation helped us refocus our attention on the importance of alerting child care providers about the link between air quality and children’s health,” she says.

Armstrong stressed the need for child care providers to use the air quality index to guide activity planning on ozone alert days. Subscribing to daily forecast emails at www.EnvironFlash.info , checking the forecast at www.ncair.org or through the telephone hotline 1-888-RUN4NCAIR are some of the ways they can access ozone levels during the ozone season, which runs from March 31 to October 31.

Armstrong also recommended posting no idling signs that say “Kids Breathe Here” to help educate parents who are picking their children up from the facilities. Fleming has already distributed the signs and information for parents to 25 child care facilities in Rowan County.

“In our region the predominant cause of air pollution is ground-level ozone,” Armstrong told the group. “Ozone is caused primarily by mobile source emissions from the burning of fossil fuels in automobiles and other motor vehicles.”

Ozone attacks lung tissue by reacting chemically with it. Repeated episodes of ozone-induced inflammation may cause permanent changes in the lungs, leading to lifelong health effects. Health risks from ozone include asthma, acute respiratory infections, long-term lung damage, lung cancer, heart disease and impaired brain development in babies.

Children and teens, people over 65, people with existing lung diseases and people who work or exercise outdoors are especially vulnerable to air pollution.

An estimated 6.2 million children have asthma in the United States, making it the most common chronic disease in childhood. In North Carolina 188,000 children – nearly one in 10 – suffer from asthma.

“About half of North Carolinas’ public schools are within a quarter of a mile of a major roadway, where air pollution is worse, and more than ľ are within one mile,” Armstrong said. “Studies show that children who go to school or live near a busy highway are more likely to have asthma.”

Armstrong urged the health consultants to provide valuable information to child care providers who, in turn, can educate parents about the hazards of air pollution and encourage them to turn off their engines when picking up and dropping off their children.

“We are only going to see respiratory problems escalate if we don’t get a handle on environmental issues,” Fleming says. “This information reinforced the fact that we can’t disregard air quality.”

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The Center for the Environment at Catawba College was founded in 1996 to provide education and outreach centered on prevalent environmental challenges and to foster community-oriented sustainable solutions that can serve as a model for programs throughout the country.

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