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Study: Illinois 3rd-Worst in U.S. for Unhealthy Air

Pollen-producing allergens are reported in every Illinois county. (
Pollen-producing allergens are reported in every Illinois county. (
July 20, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Are your allergies acting up this summer? A new report says about 80 percent of Illinois residents live in counties plagued by a combination of high ragweed pollen levels and excessive ozone days.

It's one of the worst states in the nation for this "double whammy." Researchers from the Natural Resources Defense Council said it's a big problem for the 830,000 adults and 219,000 children with asthma.

Study author Kim Knowlton, a scientist with the NRDC and a professor at Columbia University, called on lawmakers to create an effective climate action plan to combat the problem at its source.

"Supporting state and national initiatives to reduce carbon pollution is going to pull us back from the brink of more of these effects in the future, and more and more air pollution challenges,” Knowlton said.

Across Illinois, 20 counties reported an average of one or more unhealthy smog days each year. And every county has pollen-producing ragweed.

The study said rising temperatures fueled by the warming climate speed up ozone production. Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, helps ragweed flourish, while additional hot days mean more pollen over a longer period of time.

Knowlton said there are steps people can take to reduce their exposure to these allergens.

“If it's a really high pollen day, save your outdoor activity for a day later in the week when conditions are better,” she suggested. "When you come indoors, you can take a damp washcloth and towel off your hair, launder your clothes, so that you're not breathing the pollen indoors as well."

Nationwide, the report found that 127 million Americans - or 40 percent of the population - live in counties plagued by ozone and ragweed. The NRDC's website has a searchable map to help people learn more about their local conditions.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IL