While the area’s air quality has improved, particularly in the past 30 years, Dawna Cerney said similar environments “act as a sink for atmospheric pollution.”
“In particular, aerosols have significantly decreased,” said Cerney, an assistant professor of geography at Youngstown State University.
Cerney added that because the Mahoning Valley is located close to the Great Lakes, the changing atmospheric pressure could move local pollution into or out of the area.
Low pressure tends to bring pollution into the area, whereas high pressure and westerly winds blow pollution out of the area, she said.
The Mahoning-Trumbull Air Pollution Control Agency — also known as the M-TAPCA — works with the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor and investigate local pollution levels.
The EPA monitors five pollutants — three of which the local agency monitors as well (particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and ozone).
All of these pollutants can damage a person’s health. A study conducted by the American Lung Association found that these particles can cause heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks. They can also inhibit lung growth.
The EPA reported that particulate matter “is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals and soil or dust particles.”
Dangerous particles are ones that are 10 micrometers in diameter, the EPA reports.
These particles travel easily through the nose and into the lungs. Once they’ve been inhaled, they can damage both the lungs and the heart.
According to the M-TAPCA, sulfur dioxide and ozone can damage the lungs or aggravate already existing lung diseases.
Additionally, lead emission can lead to many health issues for children and adults, including cardiovascular problems, the EPA reports. The EPA sets lead levels.
“Individuals should be aware of their personal respiratory health and recognize their own level of tolerance,” Cerney said.
She added that those with a lower tolerance should take precautions to minimize their exposure to pollutants.
However, everyone should be aware that repeated low levels of pollutants could cause problems.
Anne Harding, a contributing reporter for Health.com, wrote in an article published last year that analysis of a decade of data from a Boston stroke center found that the chance of having a stroke following a “moderate” air quality day was 34 percent higher than after a “good” day.
Harding cited that an increase of heart rate and blood pressure could occur if particles make their way into the bloodstream. The particles make the blood vessels less elastic, which is what causes the problems.
She added that air pollution could increase inflammation, which is an immune system reaction. This reaction to the pollution “contributes to heart disease and strokes.”
EPA officials maintain that even moderate levels of pollution are safe — but the Boston stroke center data shows that the change from good to moderate levels increased the risk.
An air quality summary from the Mahoning Valley Air website explains that during 86 days in 2011, air pollution was at moderate levels. During five days, it was at unhealthy levels. Past summaries show that the area has hit higher risk levels.
“Both natural and human-induced air pollution have always affected human health conditions. The nature of the pollution type and amount has changed over time and geographically,” Cerney said.
She said people can minimize human-produced pollutants, but cannot prevent the Earth’s production of natural pollutants or the weather conditions that carry pollutants.
“We’re always going to have air pollution, no matter what,” senior Kaitlin Krossman said.
She said people shouldn’t live their lives worrying about whether they’re going to have a stroke due to air pollution — but they should be aware of levels in the area.
“It will be a problem if the industry around here continues to prosper, but pollution will always be there,” Krossman said.