Summer is a time for children to play outside splashing in pools, running around parks and beaches, and laughing and shouting in the “fresh air.” But, for people like 6-year-old Mia and her younger brother William, this isn’t always possible. They have asthma – a leading cause of children’s emergency room visits in Massachusetts.
Mia has had coughing fits so severe that blood vessels in her eyes have burst. She often finds herself gasping for air and terrified, coughing and wheezing uncontrollably until exhaustion or vomiting set in. Since she was 3 years old, Mia has endured scary diagnostic testing, been rushed by ambulance to the emergency room, and received treatments with potentially serious side-effects.
Mia and her brother are not alone. More than one in 10 children in Massachusetts have asthma. This is higher than the national average. Asthma is a leading cause of school absences for children in Massachusetts, and poorly controlled asthma can interfere with a child’s development and learning. Adults in Massachusetts also have a higher incidence rate than the national average.
Looming behind this family’s very real concerns are the very real consequences of our climate. One of the triggers of asthma attacks is poor air quality due to ozone pollution. In the upper atmosphere, ozone protects us from harmful sun rays, but in the lower atmosphere, “bad” ozone – or smog – forms as a result of chemical reactions that take place between pollutants emitted from power plants, factories and vehicles in the presence of sunlight and heat. Hotter temperatures can increase bad ozone levels. As our climate warms, we may see ozone pollution worsen, causing more frequent unhealthy air days that exacerbate symptoms of asthma sufferers.
In the American Lung Association’s 2012 State of the Air report, Massachusetts counties received grades no parent would want to see on a report card: six F’s, two D’s and three C’s for the high number of unhealthy air days. So far this season, as a result of high levels