From the ABC 7 Weather team

'Code Orange' air quality expected in D.C.; some groups at risk

July 5, 2011 - 02:45 PM
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Choke on your air, D.C. The lack of strong wind, lots of sunlight and workday traffic is creating an odious stew of pollutants stretching all along the East Coast.

The air around D.C. today could pose a health risk to sensitive groups like asthma and diabetes sufferers, as well as children and seniors. (AirNow.gov)

The District is expected to really reek this afternoon. The lack of strong wind, copious amounts of sunlight and the return of workday traffic is creating an odious stew of air pollutants that’s slopped from New Jersey to North Carolina. It's just another day in the nation's smoggy capital, which proudly sports an "F" grade for high-ozone days from the American Lung Association.

Look at where the gray air-quality alerts are concentrated today in this map from the National Weather Service:

air quality washington baltimore

Air quality is a measure of how much noxious gas and floating debris is in the air – particulate matter, ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide – as ranked on a numerical scale developed by the EPA. The level of ozone in the air in Alexandria is already posing a “moderate” health risk, ranking at 100 on the air-quality scale at 1 p.m., according to Clean Air Partners. But pollution tends to worsen throughout the day, typically peaking around 5 in the late afternoon, says ABC7 senior meteorologist Bob Ryan.

"It's like cooking," he says. “The morning rush hour and afternoon traffic interacts with the sunlight and the high angle of the sun, which cooks the [pollution] and increases ozone levels.”

That is why there’s a Code Orange air-quality alert in effect for “sensitive groups” in D.C. such as children and the elderly, as well as sufferers of asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, diabetes and heart disease. Best not to work too hard or lollygag outdoors if you fall into one of those slots. (It could be worse: Code Orange rates at 101 to 150 on the scale, but the index goes all the way up to 301 to 500 for the cough-and-hack-worthy Code Maroon.)

According to Ryan, the way the wind blows in the D.C. region the most virulent fumes are often carried away from I-95 to counties like Prince George’s and Anne Arundel. So if you’re trying to find that elusive breath of fresh air today, try heading west.

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