Air quality ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups,’ MDEQ warns

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published December 18, 2018

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METRO DETROIT — Did you notice, last week, when the weather app on your phone warned that the air quality in metro Detroit was poor, and maybe even dangerous for at-risk groups?

You weren’t alone. The air quality in many areas of southeastern Michigan has been rated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as “unhealthy for sensitive groups” periodically since late November.

And according to Stephanie Hengesbach, a meteorologist with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the ominous USG advisory — or one level better at “moderate” — probably won’t be lifted anytime soon.

“We do have a little system coming through today bringing snow, but I think we’re going to be hanging on to these moderate levels of fine particulates for a few days,” she said in an interview Dec. 12.

In other words, there are tiny pieces of stuff in the air and they’re just sitting in place — there hasn’t been much wind to disperse them or blow them away.

“They’re smaller than the width of a piece of hair, so they can get down into people’s lungs. And for those with heart or lung problems, they can be irritated, especially small children and the elderly.”

Hengesbach said she couldn’t say exactly what the particulates in the air are composed of right now; that’s another department. But typically, small particulate pollutants are the result of burning. So, more industrialized, urban areas have more pollutants than, say, the more rural Upper Peninsula.

But even the U.P. has been seeing some USG air ratings in the past few weeks.

“The moisture sitting at low levels can cause this kind of pollutant increase. And the wind we’ve had has been a southerly wind, which is more conducive to higher pollution levels,” Hengesbach said.

Dr. Glen Clark is chief of the Emergency Center at Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Pointe. He said there’s usually a spike in patients seeking care for lung diseases like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on days with higher measurements of air pollution.

“We also get an increase in patients complaining of chest pain worried about a heart attack,” Clark said. “Occasionally, we see some patients with eye irritation attributable to air quality.”

Those with chronic heart or lung problems know the drill: Keep up with medications, don’t exert yourself outdoors, and seek help when needed.

But the rest of us can lend a hand too, not only by keeping an eye on our vulnerable loved ones, but by keeping our emissions in check in order to, hopefully, contribute to clearing the air as much as possible.

“Try not to use gas-powered engines. Walk or bike instead of drive, that kind of thing. Treat it like an Ozone Action Day,” Hengesbach said.

And if you’ve got to get your motor running, try to do it at odd hours.

“Ideally, one should stay indoors on these days. If you must go outside, try to do so early in the morning,” Clark advised. “Same with activities such as mowing the lawn or gassing up the car. The earlier the better.”

To see current air quality conditions for southeast Michigan, visit