Protect Your Lungs While Staying Home During COVID-19

As people spend more time inside during the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s important to recognize and reduce sources of pollution in your own home. Indoor air quality varies, but is often worse than outdoor air quality. However, you can improve the air quality in your home by reducing lung irritants generated indoors. Following some basic guidelines in your day-to-day routines can improve the health of those in your home who live with asthma and other lung diseases.

Cooking

gas stove can worsen indoor air quality

Gas stoves can increase indoor air pollution in your home if not properly ventilated.

People are cooking at home more often during the COVID-19 outbreak. Cooking creates moisture, which feeds mold and mildew growth – a common trigger for those living with asthma. It also exposes you to pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, particularly from gas stoves. Nitrogen dioxide is known to worsen asthma and COPD symptoms. Using a stove fan that vents to the outside can reduce pollution from cooking by 75 percent. Opening windows while cooking can also help keep the air in your home clean.

Bathing/Showering

With people home more often, your bathroom and shower may be used more. Moisture from showers can lead to mold and mildew growth, which may affect the lungs of people living with asthma. Use the bathroom fan to vent extra moisture to the outside. If you haven’t checked your fan lately, now is a good time. Remove any dust and dirt from the fan grill to keep it working properly. If your bathroom doesn’t have a fan, open a window if possible.

Cleaning

Regularly cleaning surfaces in your home is a good practice, and can also help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Taking some precautions when cleaning can help reduce the amount of indoor pollution created. If you are cleaning with chemical solutions, try to open windows vent fumes from your space. Additionally, you should never combine ammonia and chlorine bleach cleaners. This can produce a toxic gas which could be dangerous, and especially those who live with asthma. If possible, use a vacuum cleaner, which limits dust levels in the air. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also recommends removing your shoes when you enter your home, as they can bring in additional dirt, dust and germs.

Other Daily Activities

A number of other daily activities and products can worsen indoor air quality. Nail polish, candles and paint are just a few examples of products that can affect lungs, especially those of people living with lung disease. Open windows to circulate air in your home, or use these products outside if possible to protect those in your home living with asthma.

Smoking

Anyone in your home who smokes should do so outside, as smoke and vapor from tobacco and e-cigarette products can be especially irritating to the lungs of someone living with asthma. Also, if you live in multi-unit housing, be aware that some of your neighbors may be struggling at this time and their conditions could worsen from second hand smoke. If you are thinking about quitting, there are a number of resources to help you here.

Reduced activity outside the home has generally helped improve outdoor air quality. However, if you live near pollution sources like industrial facilities or major roadways, you may still risk contact with potentially harmful air pollution. Those living with asthma may also be sensitive to outdoor allergies. In these situations, opening windows is still a good option to ventilate your home. However, consider limiting the amount of time you leave them open. If opening windows is not possible, air filters may be another option to keep good air quality in your home. You should only use devices certified by a trusted source, as some filters use ionizing technology which can produce harmful gas inside your home. You can view a list of filters certified as safe here.

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New Report on Air Quality Highlights Urgency for Clean Energy Across Illinois

For Immediate Release:

January 28, 2020

Contact:

Brian Urbaszewski
[email protected]
312-405-1175

Chicago, Springfield, Peoria and Metro East regions Experienced More Than 100 Days of Polluted Air in 2018

CHICAGO – Ahead of Gov. Pritzker’s annual State of the State address to the General Assembly, a new report shows the urgent need to pass clean air legislation in Illinois, with the metropolitan Chicago region and other areas of Illinois continuing to struggle with high levels of air pollution.

The report, Trouble in the Air from Environment Illinois Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and Illinois PIRG Education Fund, details continuing national challenges with air pollution that will only be made worse with increasing global warming. Air pollution increases the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts. The report shows that nearly 9.5 million people in the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI Metro region lived through more than 100 days of moderate air pollution or worse. Peoria, Springfield and the Metro East St. Louis region also saw more than 100 days of poor air quality in 2018. The new national statistics from 2018 used in the report represent the most recent data available.

“Instead of undermining clean air protections, our government – at all levels – should be taking every opportunity to clean up the air we breathe,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs at Respiratory Health Association. “Since electricity generation and transportation are the most polluting sectors of our economy and that pollution is killing hundreds of people a year in Illinois, we need to transition to clean renewable power sources like wind and solar, while accelerating the use of electric cars, buses and transit that eliminate tailpipe pollution in Illinois communities.” He noted that the Clean Energy Jobs Act being considered in Springfield is the only legislation that addresses both clean energy transitions and the need to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.

For the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2018, researchers reviewed Environmental Protection Agency air pollution records from across the country. The report focuses on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution, which are harmful pollutants that come from burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline, natural gas, and from other sources.

From “Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2018.” Table ES-1. Ten most populated metropolitan areas with more than 100 days of elevated air pollution in 2018.

“Clean air is not a prescription any physician can write, yet it is a much needed treatment,” said Dr. Neelima Tummala, clinical assistant professor of surgery at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “While the profound consequences on human health are alarming, what gives me hope is that studies show that improved air quality can mitigate these health effects.” Dr. Tummala noted, for example, that studies show that a long-term improvement in air quality can lead to improved lung function in children and decreased incidence of asthma.

The report’s troubling findings come at a time when the federal government is further endangering air quality by dismantling protections under the Clean Air Act.

“The data show that America’s existing air quality standards aren’t doing enough to protect our health,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “As the climate warms, higher temperatures and more severe wildfires increase air pollution and the threat to human health.”

Recommendations in the report include calling on policymakers at all levels of government to reduce emissions from transportation, support clean renewable energy, and expand climate-friendly transportation options with more transit, bike lanes and walkways. The study also calls on the federal government to strengthen ozone and particulate pollution standards, and support strong clean car standards instead of rolling them back.

“No Illinois resident should have to experience one day of polluted air – let alone over 100 days a year,” said Abe Scarr, Director of Illinois Public Interest Research Group. “Air quality will only get worse as our climate warms, so we have no time to lose. We must make progress toward clean air.”

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Respiratory Health Association (RHA) has been a local public health leader in Chicago since 1906. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better through education, research and policy change. To learn more, visit www.resphealth.org.

Illinois PIRG Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful interests that threaten our health, safety, and wellbeing.

RHA to Study Impact of Air Pollution on Public Health in Chicago

All but two of the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) 1,800 buses run on diesel fuel. Respiratory Health Association knows the health and environmental effects of vehicle pollution in the air and is focused on finding healthier transportation options for Chicago.

This summer, the Joyce Foundation awarded a one-year grant to help RHA explore the impacts of air pollution in communities throughout the city of Chicago. Funds will support a study of how diesel buses affect the lung health of residents and help increase efforts to educate leaders and the public on the potential benefits of electric vehicles.

Traffic at nighit in city

RHA’s study will explore the potential health benefits of using electric buses in place of diesel-powered vehicles.

“We see electric buses as a great opportunity, if not a necessity, for a healthier Chicago,” commented Erica Salem, RHA Senior Director, Strategy, Programs & Policy. “The Joyce Foundation’s generous grant allows us to examine how our city can move toward transportation options that provide cleaner air and healthy lungs for all Chicagoans.”

RHA will work closely with the University of Chicago’s Spatial Data Science and the Chicago Department of Public Health to study the health effect diesel buses have across different Chicago neighborhoods. Teams will compare data of those living with lung diseases who also live near busy bus routes, bus garages or maintenance shops to residents living in lower bus traffic communities.

This work builds on RHA’s efforts to secure Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s pledge for cleaner bus options. Chicago lags behind other major US cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, which have announced plans to move to all electric buses sometime in the next 20 years.

RHA will release a final report in the spring of 2020.

New Rule Decreases Coal Pollution

For nearly two years we’ve been fighting an effort to allow coal power plants to nearly double the amount of lung and climate-damaging pollution they pump into the air we breathe. The proposed changes to the state’s air pollution control rules were negotiated behind closed doors by the company that owns eight polluting power plants and then-Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration.

Respiratory Health Association sent advocates and policy experts to testify against this attempted rollback at hearings, working with a coalition of environmental and health organizations across the state and the Illinois Attorney General. We also worked with local media to shed light on the situation and inform the public.

In a victory last month, the matter was settled and vast pollution increases were avoided. RHA testimony about coal power plant pollution at a hearing in 2018

The new rules require Vistra, the company that owns half of Illinois’ remaining coal-burning power plants, to close 2,000 megawatts of dirty electricity production by the end of this year. That’s roughly the equivalent of three coal plants.

In addition, the rule caps the emissions across the entire fleet at a level roughly equivalent to the pollution produced each year over the last two years – down considerably from the original request to double emissions.

Coal power has long been in decline because it is more expensive than other methods of producing electricity. Renewable, non-polluting wind and solar energy are becoming less expensive and more reliable as primary power sources every day and continue to grow dramatically in Illinois.

Legislation known as the Clean Energy Jobs Act is also gathering momentum in the Illinois General Assembly. It creates a path to eliminate burning fossil fuels to produce electricity while dramatically increasing investment in wind and solar energy while also accelerating electrification of transportation.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act didn’t get a vote in the last legislative session, but with nearly 80 legislators sponsoring it, we plan to continue building support for the legislation during the veto session this fall.

If you’d like to be stay up to date about clean air and lung-friendly policy efforts like these, sign up for RHA’s advocacy action alerts. You’ll be alerted to changes in policy and given the option to easily contact your elected officials via email.

RHA Sues U.S. EPA to Enforce Ozone Standards

RHA Sues U.S. EPA to Enforce Ozone Standards

On Thursday, August 2, Respiratory Health Association and the Environmental Law and Policy Center (our pro bono lawyers) filed a lawsuit challenging U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s final ruling regarding the standards for measuring smog (also known as ground level ozone) in the Chicago region. In an effort to weaken current environmental protections, U.S. EPA is redefining the regional boundaries that are used. This will make areas that were not in compliance (i.e. dirty areas) appear to be clean under the new map.

Here is a summary of the issue and an opportunity to get involved in protecting the air we breathe:

What is Smog?

Smog, also known as ground-level ozone, is formed when pollution from power plants, industrial facilities, motor vehicles and other sources reacts with sunlight to form ozone. Ozone is a lung irritant that harms people with asthma or other respiratory diseases, older adults, children and other vulnerable people. It can drive kids and sensitive adults inside on hot summer days and put outdoor workers at risk.

What Happened?

After confirming the dangers of breathing smog pollution and tightening the health standard through the Clean Air Act in 2015, the U.S. EPA finalized boundaries for geographic areas that fail to meet the ozone health standard in May this year. The purpose of such boundaries is to ensure air pollution rules and policies are put in place to reduce air pollution and move these areas toward meeting the standard.

Last December, several Midwest counties were included within the boundaries as areas that did not meet the standard and were required to reduce air pollution. However, this May U.S. EPA made last-minute, unwarranted changes excluding these areas from the strict pollution limits. A Chicago Tribune article also points out that these loosened restrictions benefit big industrial companies planning to build in these areas and save them from making expensive improvements for pollution-control.

“We are very concerned that EPA would dial back these decisions,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs at Respiratory Health Association in Chicago. “Everyone deserves to breathe clean air, and EPA’s decision puts area residents at risk of more lung infections, asthma attacks and hospitalizations for respiratory problems.”

A Chance to Get Involved!

As a part of this lawsuit, we need the voices of people living in the affected areas to make our case stronger and protect clean air across the region. Do you or someone you know live in McHenry County (IL), Kenosha County (WI), Porter County or the south half of Lake County (IN)? RHA is looking for people living in these areas to help us to protect the health of Chicagoland residents by forcing U.S. EPA to comply with its restrictions on smog pollution.

If you want to stand up for clean air and tell EPA how bad air quality affects your life, please send a note to Brian Urbaszewski at [email protected].

Environmental and Public Health Groups Challenge US EPA’s Decision to Exclude Areas from Ozone Non-attainment List that Would Trigger Clean-up

Environmental and Public Health Groups Challenge US EPA’s Decision to Exclude Areas from Ozone Non-attainment List that Would Trigger Clean-up

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 2, 2018

Contact: Judith Nemes
(312) 795-3706
[email protected]

Washington, D.C.On August 2, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and Respiratory Health Association (RHA) sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the EPA’s final rule, published in June 2018, that identified areas that meet and fail to meet the 2015 ozone air quality health standard.

ELPC and RHA are challenging the exclusion of certain areas in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis “non-attainment” areas that have smog levels above the 2015 standard.

“EPA has sadly disregarded the plain facts and sound science in making these designations,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director. “EPA has not followed the letter or the spirit of the Clean Air Act and has excluded areas involving unhealthy air quality for millions of Midwesterners. Cleaner air is essential to public health and a strong economy in our region.”

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to designate non-attainment areas in counties where air quality fails to meet federal health standards for ozone and where local emissions contribute to unhealthy air quality. The states must then take steps to reduce emissions of the air pollution that cause smog.

In 2015, EPA issued a more protective ozone air health standard, which triggered a process to identify violating areas so that clean air planning could begin. In the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis areas, EPA originally proposed more comprehensive non-attainment areas, but excluded certain areas in its final decision in June in response to requests from the states.

“We are very concerned that EPA would dial back these decisions,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs at Respiratory Health Association in Chicago. “Everyone deserves to breathe clean air, and EPA’s decision puts area residents at risk of more lung infections, asthma attacks, and hospitalizations for respiratory problems.”

Ozone is formed when pollution emitted by power plants, industrial facilities, motor vehicles and other activities reacts with sunlight to form ozone. Ozone, also known as “smog,” is a lung irritant and harms people with asthma or other respiratory diseases, older adults, children and other vulnerable people. It can drive kids and sensitive adults inside on hot sunny summer days  and put outdoor workers at risk.

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IEPA Takes Public Comment on Volkswagen Settlement Spending Amidst Pressure from RHA, Partners

IEPA Takes Public Comment on Volkswagen Settlement Spending Amidst Pressure from RHA, Partners

At the end of May, RHA, our clean air advocates and partner organizations rallied together at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago to demand that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) use funds received in the Volkswagen diesel settlement to adopt the best clean vehicle spending plan possible. Held by the IEPA, this open meeting was the direct result of long-standing efforts by RHA and our partners to pressure the IEPA to take public comment.

The IEPA received nearly $109 million from the Volkswagen settlement after it was discovered that Volkswagen had installed software into its vehicles that masked the true level of emissions produced during emissions testing, thereby allowing U.S. diesel vehicles to emit up to 40 times the legally allowable level of pollution.

Money from this settlement was meant to fund clean vehicle projects that eliminate air pollution and prevent lung damage. However, IEPA’s draft plan for how to use this money was created in private meetings with business groups—without public input. The business groups pushed to cut emissions from trains, ferries and tugboats rather than on vehicles, which contribute more to air pollution and are central to the Volkswagen issue. As such, the plan largely reinforced investment in polluting fossil fuel use, prolonging smog and worsening global warming.

RHA, our advocates and our partner organizations pressured IEPA to take public comment on the plan—just like several other states that received Volkswagen settlement funds. The advocacy efforts eventually led to coverage in multiple media outlets, including the Chicago Tribune, Sun Times and Chicago Tonight. The Illinois Senate passed a bill that would force the IEPA to hold meetings and convene a task force to propose priorities for where and how to spend the money. Ultimately, a compromise plan was created that demanded that IEPA host open meetings in Springfield, East St. Louis and Chicago.

At the Chicago meeting on May 30, we called for cleaner, zero-emission, 100% electric transit vehicles and charging infrastructure. RHA hopes to ensure that the cleanest available technology solutions are used today and we continue moving toward zero-emission technology and electric vehicles.

Because of the efforts of RHA, our advocates and our partner organizations, IEPA is now much closer to using the funds to help reduce air pollution.

First Air Pollution Action Day of 2018 Called

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 25, 2018

CONTACT:
Michele Reyes
Coordinator, Marketing and Communications
Respiratory Health Association
Desk: (312) 628-0226

 

First Air Pollution Action Day of 2018 Called

CHICAGO – Respiratory Health Association is alerting the public that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued an Air Pollution Action Day alert to individuals in the Chicago Metropolitan area for Saturday. As a result of the high temperatures and low wind speeds, air pollution levels, specifically ground-level ozone, are expected to reach the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” category. This is the first Action Day issued for 2018. Due to weather conditions, ozone smog levels may remain high for several days over the holiday weekend.

An Air Pollution Action Day is declared when weather conditions are such that widespread ozone or fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels are expected to be at or above the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” category on the U.S. EPA’s Air Quality Index for multiple days. Saturday, May 26th is expected to meet these criteria, therefore, an Air Pollution Action Day is being declared. At increased levels, ground-level ozone poses a potential health hazard to sensitive populations, especially individuals with respiratory or pulmonary conditions as well as active children and adults. Those individuals should take special precautions and follow their physician prescribed regimen. Residents should keep cool and limit physical activity when air pollution levels are high.

Employers and residents of the Chicago metropolitan area are asked to follow “Green Actions” (as described below) to reduce contributions to air pollution. These groups are also encouraged to share air quality forecasts and Action Day alerts with colleagues, friends and family to help protect their health.

  • Take public transit, Rideshare, walk or bike.
  • If driving, avoid idling, consolidate errands and run them after 7 p.m. when sunlight is not as strong.
  • Avoid using gasoline-powered equipment on Air Pollution Action Days.
  • Switch to energy efficient light bulbs.
  • Set your thermostat up 2 degrees.
  • Turn off and unplug electronics not in use.
  • Use environmentally-friendly household and cleaning products.
  • Use a charcoal chimney or gas grill instead of lighter fluid when grilling.
  • Do not burn leaves and other yard waste.
  • Sign-up to receive air quality forecasts via email at enviroflash.info!

Up-to-date information on daily air quality for the Chicagoland area can be found at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s www.airnow.gov webpage.

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Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader in metropolitan Chicago since 1906. Today, the association addresses asthma, COPD, lung cancer, tobacco control and air quality with a comprehensive approach involving research, education and advocacy activities. For more information, visit www.resphealth.org.

COMMEMORATING A CLEAN AIR MILESTONE

Fisk & Crawford Coal-Fired Power Plants Closed August 2012.

 

Five years ago this month, Respiratory Health Association helped secure the closure of Chicago’s two biggest polluters, the coal-fired Fisk power plant located in Pilsen and the Crawford plant in Little Village.

Together they emitted thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) every year, forming ozone smog and fine particle pollution. Their closures have saved an estimated 210 lives, prevented 330 heart attacks and avoided 3,600 pollution-caused asthma attacks – notable health victories worth celebrating at this five-year anniversary mark.

Years of effort by RHA’s staff and advocates as well as our Chicago Clean Power Coalition partners, working with the Chicago City Council and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, made these victories possible.

Of course, once the confetti was swept up we got right back to work.

 

Since that time we have achieved additional air quality improvements through our clean energy policy work and by educating individuals, business leaders and elected officials about clean-running vehicles and clean construction policies. Last year, RHA helped pass the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA), making Illinois a nationwide leader in clean energy by expanding clean renewable solar and wind energy, reducing the use of coal and enacting better energy efficiency policies, all of which will lead to cleaner air.

Unfortunately, dirty coal plants continue to operate in Lake and Will counties as well as downstate, degrading air quality across the region. We are continuing our long-term legal and policy change strategies to combat these polluters. You can help RHA achieve our vision of clean air for all: donate now and sign up for RHA’s e-advocacy team to be part of our efforts.