Athlete, Meet Ozone

I kind of pride myself on not giving in to the heat while many other Louisvillians are hiding indoors in the comfort of air conditioning. So I took this day to be a good opportunity to train in the unseasonably high heat.

After the first mile or so, I felt unusually sluggish and overall like I wasn’t going to be able to finish my distance goal without stopping. Determined that this was one of those mental toughness situations, I figured I should just be able to ignore signals from my body that this might not be a good idea. I did consider that I felt this way due to the heat, rather than just being physically lazy.

After pushing through some dizziness, I finally decided to slow to a walk after the first wave of nausea hit. After a minute of walking I resumed the jogging for probably another mile before I repeated the whole process. Overall I repeated this about three times over the course of three and a half miles until I made my way back to my vehicle. I remember thinking to myself that I must not be as fit as I thought I was. Maybe the heat had something to do with it, but mostly I remember feeling disappointed that I performed so poorly.

The following day I spoke with a co-worker and fellow runner about the situation. He informed me of the Air Quality Alert that was in effect during my time of peril. I was somewhat reluctant to agree that it had anything to do with it. However, I ran the same distance and route again the next day and I felt 100% better. Maybe there is something to this air quality alert stuff that is affecting those of us that don’t usually consider ourselves to be part of a sensitive group.

Editor’s note Ozone peaked at 140 on the AQI (Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups) on Friday, September 2nd. On the day of Dane’s second run, ozone was back in the Good range.

Healthy adults of all ages who exercise or work vigorously outdoors are considered a “sensitive group” because they have a higher level of exposure to ozone than people who are less active outdoors.  KAIRE recommends that athletes scale back their outdoor exercise on Air Quality Alert days to reduce exposure to ozone.  Scheduling a morning run or jog may help, since ozone builds up as the day goes on.

Healthy adults can experience a 15 to 20 percent reduction in lung function from prolonged exposure to low levels of ozone. Damage to lung tissue may be caused by repeated exposure to ozone and this could result in reduced quality of life as people age. Results of animal studies suggest that repeated exposure to ozone for several months or more may produce permanent structural damage to the lungs.

Back to School? Keep it Idle Free

You’ll help reduce exhaust fumes emitted into the air around your school.

Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution because they breathe faster than adults, breathe 50% more air per pound of body weight than adults, and are closer to the ground, so closer to the tailpipes. Asthma is the most common chronic illness in children and the cause of most school absences.

Help by turning off your vehicle’s engine when parked or waiting by your child’s school. It’s that easy.

Tire Blow Out: Checking Tires is a Safety and Air Quality Issue

I checked the mirrors, let up on the accelerator and steered the car to the shoulder. “What was that noise, Mom?” asked the drowsy voice behind me. “We’ve blown a tire,” I said. Tire blow outs are more than an inconvenience. Blow outs can result in vehicle accidents, many of them fatal. What causes a tire to blow out?

1. Improper inflation is a major cause of blow outs.

a. Underinflation — Underinflated tires will flex excessively in the sidewalls, which leads to a buildup of heat in the sidewalls. That heat buildup can lead to a blow out, especially with highway driving in hot weather. Use your tire gauge to make sure your tires are at the recommended pressure.  The upside to this check is you’ll save around $0.12 per gallon if your tires were 10 psi too low.  Don’t forget to check the spare in the trunk!

b. Overinflation — Filling up your tires without a tire gauge can lead to overfilling. Never exceed the maximum pressure, which you’ll find on the side of your tire. The recommended tire pressure is found on the sticker inside the door jamb on the driver’s side.

2. Overloading your vehicle. This is more of an issue for trucks, SUVs, vans and trailers used for hauling heavy loads. Check the loading rating of your tires to make sure they are up to the task.

3. Road hazards. This was the cause our blow out. Something unseen on the road punctured the tire. Steering around obvious road hazards, such as potholes or objects in the roadway and avoiding “curb shots” are the only real preventatives here.

4. Tread wear. Eventually, all tires wear out. Check the depth of the tire tread and look for any bulges, punctures or cracks on the tire’s surface. Tires should be checked every time your vehicle is serviced.

Fortunately for us, our tire blow out was largely a non-event. Traffic was light, there was plenty of room on the well-lighted shoulder to pull off and we were home and safe within the hour. I couldn’t help but think that had we been farther from home, on a darker road or in the middle of rush hour traffic, the situation could have been much, much more dangerous.

The health of those who live and breathe in Kentuckiana is also riding on your tires. Driving on properly maintained tires helps save the air by decreasing your vehicle’s emissions. The US Dept. of Energy estimates the waste of 1.2 billion gallons of gasoline per year because Americans are driving on underinflated tires. Since burning one gallon of gas produces 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, our air could be much cleaner if everyone just took a few minutes to keep their tires maintained.

Check your tires frequently. It’s a matter of safety, economy and health.

Five For Fall: Hot Air Friendly Tips for Cooler Weather

Tune in. School’s back in session and recent construction has changed some local traffic patterns. Tired of getting tied up in traffic? Sometimes it’s unavoidable. However, checking traffic reports on the radio, TV or the computer before starting your commute could help you avoid the mess. It’s always a good idea to have alternate routes to school or work in case an accident or construction gets in your way. When possible, schedule your appointments and errands to avoid the busiest roadways during morning and afternoon commutes.

Hold an Air-Friendly Lunch. Get together with your colleagues to bring in a potluck or brown bag lunch or order lunch delivery as a group. Doing so will reduce lunchtime traffic congestion and idling in drive-thru lines. It might even build a little workplace morale.

Fat or Flat? With tires, it can be difficult to tell. According to AAA Motorist, a tire can lose as much as 50% of its inflation pressure and not appear to be flat. Tires lose pressure every month and an average of 1-2 pounds for every ten degrees of temperature change. To maintain proper pressure, check tires monthly to be sure they’re filled to their recommended psi rating. Find the correct psi by checking the owner’s manual or the driver’s side door panel.

Tread = Traction While you’re checking the inflation of your tires, take a good look at the tread. Signs of uneven wear can point to big problems ahead and especially this winter, when good traction is imperative. Not sure what to look for? There’s a guide for nearly everything, including an illustrated guide to tire wear.

Be Idle Free. Idling for just 30 seconds uses more fuel than stopping and starting your engine. Idling a vehicle for a total of 10 minutes a day uses an average of about 22 gallons of gas per year. Unless you’re in traffic, turn that key.

How I Met Your Mother Earth

I grew up on 200 acres of farmland that included woods, a pond, and a small creek, so I was surrounded with opportunities to connect with the planet. Sure, I spent time collecting and counting pinecones, chasing fireflies, looking for deer tracks and scattering dandelion fluff. But most of the time, I was too busy with chores, school and just being a kid to slow down and appreciate it.

One spring Sunday I remember watching my dad get up from the lunch table and make his way through the screen door and outside to the small hill where the windmill once stood. He lay down on that small slope of grass, stretched out his long legs, put his hands behind his head and fell asleep. I was eight or nine years old, and thought it kind of a silly place for a nap, but I waited about an hour after Dad returned to the farm chores before checking it out myself. Cautiously, I let my body sink into the cool of the grass. The sun warmed my closed eyelids; a breeze cooled my forehead. I was aware of the deep, dark soil beneath me, the endless thousands of blades of grass that surrounded me, the buzzing of insects and the miles of sky stretching far above me. I have yet to find a resort hammock or pillowtop mattress with the orthopedic benefits of that gentle slope. No wonder Dad chose that little hill over the lumpy living room sofa. Where else to rest and repair but on the land where he labored, the land that gave us a living and so much more? I’m thinking of that little hill on this Earth Day, not just because it was a wonderful napping spot, but because I remember it as a place of feeling connected to the whole Earth, knowing that I was a small part of the living universe.

I hope that my children feel that same connection. Studies show that kids who have contact with nature grow up with a sense of belonging and sense of place. These are the good memories that adults retain from childhood. Yes, my kids are being taught at home and at school the concepts of recycling, taking care of the environment and leaving a small carbon footprint. However, a walk in the woods or some time playing in the park may teach them even better. It’s not what they do there that important; it’s that they’re there experiencing it. If they have that quiet moment of connection to Mother Earth, taking care of our planet becomes second nature.

So my Earth Day challenge to you is to find that place where you reconnect to the planet and revisit it. Or find a new place. It doesn’t have to be a mountaintop, though mountains are good for gaining perspective. It might be as close as the green space outside your office, the park or your own backyard. You don’t have to do anything but watch and listen and be a part of it. Because when you remember that connection to Mother Earth, all the rest will follow.