The Nevada Independent | Bernadette Longo
The heat wave we are experiencing here in Nevada is not just uncomfortable; it’s also part of a dangerous trend that we often overlook in our day-to-day lives. Scientific studies have confirmed the Earth’s climate is changing. Many observable changes are a result of the increased greenhouse gases emitted from human activities. Extreme weather events such as heatwaves are likely to become more frequent or more intense. The increased drought in the southwestern United States is placing our communities at higher risk for wildfires. But what do heat waves and wildfires have to do with health? The answer — it exacerbates pollution in the air we breathe.
There are many impacts of climate change on our health. One example is when you mix vehicle exhaust with extreme heat, the result is higher ozone pollution. Ozone high up in the atmosphere is helpful because it protects life on Earth from the sun’s rays, but when ozone is created and remains at the surface of our planet it is dangerous to health. When we breathe in ozone pollution, the lining of our lungs becomes irritated and inflamed, much like a sunburn on the skin. We are all affected by ozone. Those most vulnerable to these harmful effects of ozone are children with developing lungs, the elderly with limited lung capacity, pregnant women, and those of us with existing lung diseases. Ozone is a known trigger for breathing problems for persons with asthma and other respiratory limitations.
The American Lung Association’s 2020 “State of the Air” report for Nevada revealed that air pollution has crept up in recent years of the report. The report ranks the Las Vegas-Henderson metro area as the 9th most polluted in the country for ozone and the 25th most polluted for particulate matter. This doesn’t mean we haven’t made important progress here; it just means that we have to double down as climate change ramps up the challenge.