Air Quality Alert Issued in East Tennessee

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Knxoville (WVLT) - The above average temperatures we're experiencing this week may make you want to get outside, but that's exactly what some people should not do.

The Environmental Protection Agency has established national air quality standards, and Tuesday the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville were among the worst.

Tuesday, the EPA raised our Air Quality Index value to orange, which means the conditions are unhealthy for sensitive groups of people who could experience health effects within a few days or even hours of breathing polluted air.

The air quality index ranges from good to hazardous.

Tuesday, the EPA elevated Knoxville and surrounding areas from moderate to unhealthy for sensitive groups, meaning people with respiratory or cardiovascular problems are more likely to experience health effects.

"Well, the air quality today is in the orange zone, because of the fact that ozone is high and ozone usually goes up when the temperature gets higher." Allergy, Asthma and Sinus Center Doctor Paul Carter says it isn't that uncommon for East Tennessee to be at level orange between the months of May and September.

But, certain people need to take precautions.

"Some TDOT signs typically designated to keep you informed of estimated travel time from one area of Knoxville to the next, today, are reflecting the air quality alert,” says Dr. Carter.

The elevated AQI value in East Tennessee is due to ozone.

It's formed when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants and other sources react chemically in the presence of sunlight.

At ground level, it's a harmful air pollutant.

"The other thing that contributes to it is when we live in an area where we don't get a good circulation of air,” Dr. Carter explains.

That pollution stagnates in the Tennessee Valley during hot and humid weather.

People who are sensitive to this air should avoid the outdoors during the warmest times of day, staying inside and keeping doors and windows shut.

Even young people and active people should take outdoor activities, like exercise, indoors until the air quality returns to moderate or good.

Summer is still about a month away, so as the temperature continues to rise, so does the likelihood of an even greater AQI value.

The next category, unhealthy, means we all may begin to experience health effects, and sensitive groups may experience more serious health problems.

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