Kentuckians tell pollsters they are concerned about air quality, but don’t seem to put their concern into action

A recent poll shows that more than half of Kentucky adults, especially women, are concerned about air quality in their community, but only 48 percent say they change their behavior when an air quality alert is issued.

Perhaps they have never heard of an air quality alert, which is issued by a local or state air-pollution authority to protect the public’s health from air pollution. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency monitors air quality and uses an Air Quality Index to warn the public when the amount of particle pollution or ozone in the air may harm their health.

When pollution gets to a level of concern, alerts or action days are issued in participating areas, which in Kentucky are Louisville, Lexington and the Mammoth Cave area (primarily Edmonson County). This could explain why almost 30 percent of poll respondents from Louisville said they were very concerned about air quality in their community, and only 13 percent of respondents from Appalachia indicated this level of concern.

Almost 60 percent of Appalachians said they are not concerned at all about the air quality in their community, compared to 26 percent of Louisville respondents that aren’t at all concerned. Few Eastern Kentucky counties are part of an air-quality monitoring program. In addition to the areas monitoring for alerts or action days, 37 Kentucky counties (colored in the map) participate in the monitoring program. Click here to compare counties.

Counties covered by an air-quality monitoring program are colored.
The poll indicated that just 20 percent of Kentucky adults said they change or limit their activities a lot when air quality alerts are issued, and about 30 percent said they change their behavior a little.  Respondents from the Louisville region were most likely to change or limit their activities, while those in the Lexington area were the most likely to not change or limit their behavior at all. 
When air quality is at an unhealthy level, people can protect themselves by limiting outdoor activities or avoiding heavy exertion.  These protective measures are even more important for those sensitive to air pollution, such as people with heart or lung disease, the elderly and children.
“The quality of our air impacts all of us, but is particularly important for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. When an air quality alert is issued, we can protect ourselves and our families by avoiding heavy exertion and limiting outdoor activities,” said Dr. Susan Zepeda, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which co-sponsored the poll. “We can also do our part to limit emissions and protect our neighbors by turning off our car’s engine while we are waiting.” 
Almost 30 percent of Kentucky adults and 40 percent of Western Kentucky adults said they never turn their car’s engine off when waiting in their car and not moving, as in a traffic jam, train crossing or drive-through.

Including those who never turn off their cars, more 60 percent said they wait at least four minutes before turning off their car’s engine when waiting in the car and not moving. Experts recommend turning off a waiting car’s engine after just ten seconds in order to save gas and limit emissions.

The poll was funded by the foundation and the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati and was conducted last year from Sept. 20 to Oct. 14 by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati. A random sample of 1,680 adults from throughout Kentucky was interviewed by telephone, including landlines and cell phones and the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
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