This post was written by Kelly Picarsic, Clean Air Carolina:
Sixteen-year old Jeremy grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina and knows when pollution levels are high. “On the worst air quality days, I’ll just be outside for a little while and get mild wheezing just from walking.” Jeremy is one of 58,000 children living with asthma in the Charlotte, NC region.
Young people like Jeremy are the most vulnerable to the effects of Charlotte’s air pollution. Their lungs are still developing and they take in more dirty air per pound of body weight than adults. They also tend to spend more time outdoors, especially during the summertime when ozone pollution levels can be the worst. Those with asthma are even more sensitive.
Jeremy was six years old when he experienced his first asthma attack. While playing in a water fountain during a family vacation in Charleston, he suddenly felt a tightness in his chest and had trouble breathing. His mother, an asthmatic herself, recognized the signs and sought medical assistance for him immediately.
Now a rising Junior at Myers Park High School, Jeremy has managed to keep his asthma under control with proper medication. He is a competitive swimmer and has been on the swim team for several years. He also holds a summer job as a lifeguard at the Shannon Park Swim Club in Charlotte. Jeremy loves his job but says it can be challenging when it keeps him outside on the poorest air quality days. He realizes feeling healthy is an important part of his work. As a lifeguard monitoring 120 or so children in the pool, “you have to be on your top game…if you’re not breathing well or distracted, that could really throw you off.”
Medical professionals refer to the impact of ozone pollution as “sunburn on the lungs.” Parents can’t apply sunscreen to their children’s lungs to protect them from damage. As a result, high ozone levels increase asthma and exacerbates emergency room visits and hospitalizations on high ozone days. Ozone can also cause long-term damage especially for children who grow up in smoggy cities. Studies show children growing up in cities with polluted air lose their ability to develop “reserve lung capacity” used when playing sports like swimming.
Watch Jeremy’s story here: