published Sunday, July 14th, 2013

Chattanooga air quality is the best in a year thanks to non-stop July rain

Earl Howze of Lott's Lawn and Cleaning Service mows the lawn of an East Brainerd home in the rain.
Earl Howze of Lott's Lawn and Cleaning Service mows the lawn of an East Brainerd home in the rain.
Photo by Maura Friedman.

We may be soggy, but we're breathing easier.

Chattanooga is experiencing its best air quality in at least a year thanks to rainfall that is running more than 17 inches ahead of normal.

By this time last year six unhealthy air quality days had been declared, and the Chattanooga Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau advised people with heart and lung disease, older adults and children to stay in their homes.

This year has been a different story. There have been no unhealthy air quality days, the pollen count is low and there is no ozone, said Amber McCorvie Boles, public relations coordinator for the bureau.

"When you have rain moving in, it kind of washes out the pollutants," Boles said.

Chattanooga perennially ranks among the nation's worst cities for allergy and asthma sufferers.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America listed Chattanooga as the second-worst city in the country for asthma sufferers this year, behind only Richmond, Va. Knoxville was ranked 10th, Atlanta ninth and Memphis third.

All six of the code orange --unhealthy for sensitive groups -- air quality days in 2012 occurred between June 28 and July 7, when the high hit 100 degrees or more on seven days and the mid- to upper 90s on the other days.

And the area still could have poor air quality in the days ahead.

It could be mid-September before cooler weather comes and ends virtually all chance of unhealthy air quality days, Boles said.

High temperatures, sun and a lack of wind or rain are major contributors to poor air quality, especially ozone, said Boles.

"Where there is little wind or rain, there is not much movement in the air. Pollutants aren't pushed through, so they just kind of sit around baking," she said.

Code Orange air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups of people including older adults, children and people with heart or lung disease. On a scale of 0 to 500, with 500 being the worst, the air quality index on Code Orange days is at 101 to 150. A Code Orange ranking means there could be adverse health effects for up to 50 percent of the population because of smog and particulates in the air.

But rain keeps unhealthy air at bay.

Chattanooga received 6.8 inches of rain in the first 10 days of July. That surpassed the 4.4 inches that fell in June and accounts for more than 10 percent of the 46.19 inches that had fallen so far this year as of Friday afternoon, said Sam Roberts, National Weather Service meteorologist.

That's just shy of last year's 50.48 inches and only about 6 inches short of the annual average of 52.48 inches.

But all that rain can lead to other air problems.

With more moisture comes mold, cautioned Dr. Todd Levin, with the Chattanooga Allergy Clinic.

While the pollen count was 4 for grass earlier this week, the count for mold was 1,875, according to the control bureau's website.

That's only a "moderate" air quality ranking, but Levin said having that much mold in the air has sent more people to his clinic seeking relief.

The clinic offers allergy shots and medications to decrease the severity of allergic reactions.

"I can't take being around any kind of mold," said Terrance Marbury, 21, who takes monthly allergy shots.

His allergies have been severe enough to prevent him from breathing and progress into an asthma attack, he said.

The best thing to do to avoid irritation from mold is to keep your home as dry as possible, said Levin. An air conditioner pulls moisture out of the air. Bleaching hard surfaces will also help.

Marbury said he's been mostly staying indoors and is breathing better now than usual but he expects that to be short-lived.

"In a couple of more days it will be hot again," he said.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman @timesfreepress.com or call 423-757-6431.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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