One key aspect of successful management of a person’s asthma is recognizing the impact of their environment on their condition. Both indoor and outdoor air quality can play a significant role in managing asthma and avoiding potential asthma episodes. Texas is home to a diverse mix of air pollutants. The Gulf Coast region is home to one of the largest petrochemical complexes in the world. Many Texas Cities have grown dramatically over the past 20 years increasing the numbers of automobiles and trucks on Texas roads. These factors, coupled with the large number of days with sunshine, contribute to pollution in a number of cities. Air quality concerns in West Texas, and in the agricultural and rural areas of the state, typically relate to dust, odors and other agricultural pollutants.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for six “criteria pollutants” considered harmful to public health, including ground-level ozone (smog), particulate matter, lead, nitrogen, dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide. As recently as March 2006 in Texas, five urban areas did not meet the federal standards for at least one of the criteria pollutants (Beaumont-Port Arthur, Dallas-Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston-Galveston-Brazoria and San Antonio). Additionally, two areas were near non-attainment levels (Corpus Christi and Victoria.)
Roughly over half of the Texas population lives in one of these five metropolitan areas. The EPA provides an Air Quality Index (AQI) based on measurements of five of the six criteria pollutants. The AQI is divided into categories ranging from “Good” to “Hazardous”.
In 2005, 26 Texas counties experienced at least one day in which the AQI for ozone reached a level that was unhealthy for sensitive groups, and not all counties are monitored. Environmental factors contributing to asthma are not limited to the outdoor environment. Indoor pollutants, such as environmental tobacco smoke, household dust, roaches, mold, chemical odors and compounds released from gas stoves and space heaters are common triggers encountered in the home, school and at work. Indoor air assessment tools exist and should be used to identify, control or eliminate asthma triggers. Since successful asthma management includes avoidance of asthma triggers, these tools should be used to protect family members, students and workers from illness and disability.