Champaign-Urbana provides a breath of fresh air

You can breath easier knowing that a fresh breath in Champaign-Urbana is almost as fresh it comes, according to information from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

While many students don’t notice much change in air quality between UI and their hometown, some like Jenna Mortensen, sophomore in LAS, acknowledge a difference.

“Up there it’s a lot more congested and there’s definitely a lot more cars, whereas here it’s a campus town and everyone’s walking, motorcycling, and there’s less air pollution here,” Mortensen said.

Mortensen said that the inferior air quality of her hometown, a northwestern suburb of Chicago, is especially noticeable when she travels down to the University.

Tami Bond, a professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering who teaches a class on air quality modeling, said that experiences like Mortensen’s wouldn’t be uncommon.

“Yes, certainly it can be that different,” Bond said. “Air pollution is generated by human activities, so higher population density leads to thicker pollution. Areas with severe air pollution problems tend to be those with dense populations.”

That said, the difference between a densely populated area like Chicago and a smaller town like Champaign is significant.

In the Illinois EPA’s Annual Air Quality Report, the most recent of which amasses data from 2008, the Chicago sector had “good” quality air days 59.7 percent of the time, compared to Champaign, which saw “good” days 83.3 percent of the time. The organization uses the Air Quality Index, or AQI, in making its determinations.

They found that the vast majority of remaining days were deemed “moderate” — air quality that Bond says is still fairly good.

“(“Moderate” air) is thought to be healthy for all but a very few, very sensitive people,” Bond said. “It’s more important to look at the AQI above 100. Chicago does have a few days, around 20, above 100 AQI each year.”

Based on a scale of 0-500, AQI takes into account ozone, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, two types of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide. Outside of the Chicago and St. Louis areas, there were no days that had an AQI above 100 in Illinois.

Though most other parts of the state generally have “good” quality air, some students from rural towns and those with active lifestyles think the air quality on campus could still be better.

Jordan Blanton, a sophomore on the Illini wrestling team, said that his active lifestyle emphasizes the difference between the air quality of his hometown, Richmond, Ill., and Champaign-Urbana.

“I’m from a real rural town,” Blanton said. “There’s a lot of green and cornrows, so it’s worse here. You definitely notice it when you’re running or doing something outside.”

The Illinois EPA says that during days where AQI is above 100, those who do a lot of outdoor activities like Blanton should use caution.

“Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor activity,” the report says.

Bond said that it is really only these types of people who should actively monitor air quality.

“I think a few people need to understand air quality really well, and I think everyone should reflect on how their choices affect the environment,” Bond said.