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Do your part to breathe easier, indoors and out

Protective measures include checking the air quality, keeping the windows closed and driving less often.

December 10, 2007|Erin Cline Davis | Special to The Times

If you live in L.A., there's really no avoiding air pollution. But there are a few things you can do to protect yourself and your family from its harmful effects, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

* Plan activities based on the air quality.

Experts advise that children and adults limit outdoor activities on days when air pollution levels are high. The Air Quality Index can be used as a guide. This is calculated each day by the EPA for the five major air pollutants that are regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. The AQI often will be included in the local weather report. You can also find the AQI for your area at www.airnow.gov.

The individual pollutant with the highest value determines the AQI value for the day. When the AQI for one of these pollutants is above 100, state and local agencies are required to report which groups of people are at heightened risk.

For example, if the AQI for particulate matter is 150, people with heart or lung disease, older adults and children will be advised to reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.

When the AQI reaches 300, the air is considered hazardous to all groups.

On days when the AQI indicates unhealthful levels of air pollutants in your area, avoid strenuous exercise outdoors. Take a walk instead of a jog to reduce the amount of air you are inhaling, or take your routine indoors to the gym or simply walk around the mall.

People with heart or lung disease should be especially careful, limiting their activities and exposure to outdoor air at even lower levels of pollution than the general population.

* Keep the indoor air clean.

If you take steps to keep the indoor air quality good, staying inside and avoiding outdoor activities can help reduce your exposure to air pollution.

Keep doors and windows closed to limit the amount of outside air pollution that makes its way inside.

Use standard air filters: these can remove larger particles from the air, although they are not effective at removing ultra-fine particles or toxic gases. Replacing air filters with electrostatic drop-in filters, available at hardware stores, may help with ultra-fine particles, according to preliminary research from the laboratory of UC Davis professor Thomas Cahill.

And don't smoke or allow smoking in your home. Researchers have found that the body responds to cigarette smoke and particle pollution in the same way.

* Do your part to reduce pollution.

When levels of ozone or particulate matter are predicted to reach unhealthful levels, everyone can help improve the air quality by using their cars less frequently.

It will also help if people conserve electricity; refuel cars and trucks after dusk; limit engine idling; use household chemicals in ways that keep evaporation to a minimum, or try to delay using them until air quality improves.

When particle pollution is high, reduce or eliminate fireplace and wood stove use; avoid using gas-powered lawn and garden equipment.

Barbecues are out too: According to the lung health advocacy group Breathe California of Los Angeles County, smoke, airborne ash and particulate matter from barbecues are just as toxic as smoke from wildfires.

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