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D.C. Runners Feel Effects Of Area's Poor Air Quality

Two runners take to the trail next to the reflecting pool, which might be far enough from roads to offer ever so slightly better air quality.
Bernard Oh: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bernardoh/5216540096/
Two runners take to the trail next to the reflecting pool, which might be far enough from roads to offer ever so slightly better air quality.

Air quality in the D.C. Metro area received a failing grade for 2013, in the American Lung Association's new State of the Air report card for 2013. While the pollution can prove hazardous for vulnerable populations like children, the elderly, and those with asthma, poor air quality can also be an issue for D.C.'s runners.

Randall Myers, a boardmember of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and runner of two years, says air quality is probably not life threatening for him, but it can have a big effect on his outdoor activities.

"If the air quality is bad, if I can't get oxygen, that dictates when and where I will run," Myers says.

Myers takes to the trails and streets all over the District, and says the combination of heat, fumes and idling cars downtown keeps him away during the summer months. More greenery and fewer cars in Rock Creek Park, by contrast, make it more attractive.

"I'm a bit concerned, because as someone who goes out there and breathing a lot of the toxic fumes, you don't know how dangerous it is," Myers says.

Megan McCarty, a veteran of four marathons, says the heat doesn't bother her much, similar as it is to her native Florida. She does, however, say she occasionally feels the effects of pollution.

"I can kind of notice sometimes if the pollen is extra high, or the air quality is extra bad, I can feel the difference in the back of my throat," McCarty says.

D.C. received an F grade for its number of high ozone days as did Arlington, Fairfax, Prince George, and Montgomery Counties. Ozone is the most widespread air pollutant, created by the interaction of sunlight and certain kinds of emissions. According to the American Lung Association, it can irritate the lungs and cause wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature death.

The Washington metropolitan area, which includes D.C., Baltimore, Northern Virginia and a small portion of West Virginia, ranks ninth of 277 for high ozone days and 29th for 24-hour particle pollution.

"The air in Washington, D.C. is certainly cleaner than when we started the ‘State of the Air’ report 14 years ago," says Kimberly Williams, Advocacy and Communications Manager for the American Lung Association, in a release. "Even though the area experienced increases in unhealthy days of high ozone, the air quality is still better compared to a decade ago. But the work is not done, and we must set stronger health standards for pollutants and cleanup sources of pollution in the D.C. area to protect the health of our citizens."

The American Lung Association advocates stronger federal emission protections and cleaner gas as a solution to the problem. For McCarty, the fix is simpler.

"People should drive less and run more," she says. "That way there will be less pollution, and we'll have better air quality."

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