Bellin Health lung expert values the air quality index


GREEN BAY - In early December of 2009, the Forum of International Respiratory Societies declared 2010 the Year of the Lung.

Now local members of the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) are using the declaration as a platform to educate the public about the national air quality index (AQI) and how it impacts lung health.

“As we get into these hot summer months and ground level ozone increases, many people – especially those with respiratory conditions – have trouble with their breathing,” says AARC member Pete Weber, team leader of Pulmonary Medicine at Bellin Hospital. “Understanding the air quality index can help you decide when to limit or avoid outdoor activities.”

According to Weber, ground level ozone combines with particle pollution, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide to create a toxic atmosphere. The government monitors the levels of such pollutants in the air and reports a daily AQI that’s published on the government’s web site.

“Our own Green Bay television stations generally report the AQI during their weather broadcasts as well, and people who are especially sensitive can even sign up for a free service at that will send them an e-mail whenever the AQI reaches dangerous levels in their community,” Weber said.

In its declaration, the Forum of International Respiratory Societies noted with grave concern that:

• Hundreds of millions of people struggle each year for life and breath due to lung diseases, including tuberculosis, asthma, pneumonia, influenza, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and more than 10 million die
• Chronic respiratory diseases cause approximately 7 percent of all deaths worldwide and represent 4 percent of the global burden of disease
• Lung diseases afflict people in every country and every socioeconomic group, but take the heaviest toll on the poor, the old, the young and the weak
• Deadly synergies exist between diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, influenza and asthma, COPD and lung cancer
• Diseases once primarily found in industrialized countries, such as asthma, COPD and lung cancer, are now major problems in low- and middle-income countries and threaten to overwhelm public health services
• The cost of lung disease runs to billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and increased health care expenses – to say nothing of diminished and ruined lives
• Public demand and political commitment remain inadequate to effect significant change

Those concerns are why it’s important to better understand the value of the AQI and how its findings can affect one’s well-being, Weber said.

“Poor quality air can have many effects on the body,” he said. “It irritates the respiratory system and can make conditions like asthma worse, and it can also lead to chest pain and other problems in people with heart disease.

“Keeping track of the AQI on a daily basis is a good way to make sure you are protected during the worst of our summer days.”