Illinois ranked third worst for breathable air

By Cole Lauterbach 
Illinois News Network 

If your allergies are driving you crazy, it might be that you’re allergic to Illinois.

The environmental advocacy group Natural Resource Defense Council listed Illinois as the third worst in the nation for the amount of population living in counties with poor breathable air. Connecticut and Rhode Island are the only states with higher percentages.

The report shows a number of high-smog days in the Chicago and St. Louis areas are a large source of poor air quality days in Illinois.

If Washington D.C. were a state, it would have ranked No. 1 due to both heavy ragweed pollination that typically starts in the coastal southeastern portion of the country and works its way north and east and the number of ozone action days they have in a year.

“So far this year, [Illinois] already had a dozen days where we’ve had unhealthy air quality, according to the U.S. EPA,” said Brian Urbaszewski, director of Environmental Health Programs for the Chicago-based Respiratory Health Association.

High smog levels are relatively common for urban areas in the United States. What put Illinois so high up the rankings that nearly every rural county in the state has had levels is ragweed pollen, which has sent people with hay fever scrambling for the Benadryl.

“It is one of those many plant allergens that can contribute to an asthma episode, but it’s also responsible for hay fever, which makes a lot of people miserable,” Urbaszweski said.

Ragweed has been shown to make more pollen under higher levels of carbon dioxide. Even though there’s not much ragweed in urban areas, the USDA says exposure to ozone and diesel fumes can increase your sensitivity to ragweed pollen seven fold.

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