Athletics and Air Pollution-a fatal mix!

August 4, 2012-by John Blair valley editor

Every summer of late, we see stories about how local athletes deal with heat, especially football players who wear heavy protective clothing and pads. Yes, heat is problem with athletes of all types but sadly, sports officials in our area fail to consider the impact that air pollution can have on both athletic performance and athletes’ personal health.

This is what the air looked like in Evansville on the day that Ryan Owens, a Henderson County high school football player died after collapsing during a morning practice. Fine particle levels were excessively high that day, rising to over 70 µg/m3, more than twice the 24 hour health based standard. Valley Watch is asking that athletic and band practices and games be cancelled during times when air pollution “alerts” are issued as a measure to protect kids health. Photo of Evansville’s riverfront by: Wendy Bredhold for

One needs only look back to that fateful day in July, 2006 when Henderson football player, Ryan Owens died after collapsing at a morning football practice. Heat and a condition with Owens’ heart were determined to be the cause officially, but the prospect of Owens death being at least partially caused by air pollution was left out of the equation even though that was one of our worst air pollution days in the last decade as levels of fine particles soared above 70 micrograms per cubic meter, more than twice the the 24 hour standard of 35 µg/m3. Owens condition was one which is listed as being aggravated by fine particle pollution.

This is not the only time that players’ health has been placed at risk during high levels of air pollution. There have been numerous reports over the last decade of players collapsing when we were having either fine particle or ozone “air pollution alerts.” And, it is not only players that  could be impacted, it is also important to understand that band members, who often carry large, heavy instruments and heavy uniforms exert themselves both during performance and practice.

Therefore, Valley Watch implores athletic and band directors of schools at all levels to judiciously heed air pollution alerts as a determining factor whether both practices and games should be played or rescheduled. The connection between foul air and ill health abound and like in Owens’ case, a condition unknown to the athlete may end up causing permanent or fatal consequences.

This is especially true as school and sports schedules are fast forwarded to earlier dates when heat and pollution are greater.

Last year, when this was an issue, there was a TV interview with someone supposedly in charge of sports for the EVSC and he completely dismissed air pollution as something to consider, saying, “We have air pollution alerts all the time” as if that fact made them less dangerous.

Although that was a true statement,  when an alert is issued, athletic practices and games should cancelled and rescheduled. Our kids health should always take precedent over playing a mere game.


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