We “old timers” were acclimated to hot weather 50 years ago. When kids, we played outside all day, because we had nothing else but sports activities to occupy our time. We had no computers, video games or central air conditioning. Air pollution was non-existent. Today, in contrast, football is a much different sport, because 4 conditions have changed and one unfortunately remains the same for an estimated 20% of coaches.
Now there are drastically different non-acclimated football athletes, drastically different weather conditions that include global warming and air pollution.
In addition, youth athlete football participation is increasing dramatically and the football community at times appears dysfunctional when turning a blind eye to youth sports safety.
Because of my football experience, medical education, and research, I caution tossing in the mix a win-at-all-cost coach, a coercive disciple, who overlooks and ignores hazardous environmental conditions during football practice and play.
Youth football athletes are not acclimated to hot weather nowadays. They only go outside to practice football when the season begins. The news is that they potentially practice outside in dangerous heat combined with air pollution. Often the detrimental air pollutant is Ozone.
OZONE TOXICITY is a well known toxic condition affecting both human and plant life. “New statistics from the World Health Organization show that in the United States, air pollution annually kills nearly twice as many people as do traffic accidents and that deaths from air pollution equal deaths from breast cancer and prostate cancer combined,” said Tiffany Schauer, executive director of Our Children’s Earth Foundation. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Smog has been systematically researched and confirmed athlete hazards.
Ozone (O3) is a tri-atomic molecule. It has three oxygen atoms. Ozone on ground level is an air pollutant with harmful effects on human lungs and the entire respiratory system. On the other hand, the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere is beneficial, acting as a filter and preventing potentially damaging ultraviolet light from reaching the Earth’s surface.
Ground level Ozone peaks in the afternoon after sunlight cooks air-born nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and sulphur dioxide, after air pollution has been emitted during the day.
Ozone is a more powerful oxidizing agent than O2. The Ozone oxidation of human tissue cells in the lungs and entire respiratory system, when bad air is inhaled by football athletes, proceeds rapidly with increasing dangerously hot weather. Ozone and heat act synergistically causing a greater effect on body tissues when combined together in the inhalation gas mixture that aerates the lungs. The two appear to have a linear relationship.
Ozone can irritate the respiratory system causing coughing and tightness in the chest. Football athletes retch and have difficulty breathing. Breaths might be more rapid and shallow, hallmark signs. Symptoms may last hours after exposure.
Pre-existing Asthma is aggravated by Ozone. Asthmatics are more greatly affected by the irritant and high levels result in a greater number of asthma attacks and hospitalizations. Ozone also makes asthmatics more sensitive to allergens that cause asthma attacks and can aggravate chronic lung diseases like bronchitis and infections.
The inflammation and damage to the epithelial cells lining the entire respiratory system and lungs can be silent and rapid for certain groups of football athletes. Often there is no warning.
Ozone damage can occur without any noticeable signs. Football athletes initially might not manifest symptoms, but as Ozone continues to cause lung damage, the athlete might become symptomatic and suddenly collapse.
Pulmonary damage can be irreversible in some football athletes. ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) is the most serious result. ARDS results in a fibroproliferative reaction that lines and blocks off . permanently, the permeable wall of the alveolar sacs. Oxygen cannot be exchanged with circulating pulmonary blood. Sudden catastrophic collapse ensues after oxygen deprivation. Death is almost certain after ARDS begins. Even steroids are ineffective.
Scientists are researching ozone’s long-term effects. Youth football athletes repeatedly exposed to high levels of ozone may sustain lung damage, absent an acute attack. Studies suggest that ozone may also harm resistance to respiratory infections and later in life cause lung cancer.
Every coach, must daily check the Air Quality Index and Heat Index on their field of play or practice. Coaches have a duty to protect children who are participating in sports activities. They are transferred the chain of protective custody for our children.
An AQI of 0-50 usually has no abnormal health effects. When there is an AQI of 51-100, football athletes with respiratory disease and asthma should not practice football outside. During an AQI 101-150 in addition to asthmatics, an athlete in the sensitive group, should not practice football outside.
The problem with this category is that members of the sensitive group might catastrophically only become known following collapse. During dangerous heat, no one should practice football outdoors with AQI greater than 100.
Youth football athletes should move indoors to practice and play in any of the following categories: AQI of 151 – 200 is Unhealthy”. AQI of 201 – 300 is “Very Unhealthy. AQI greater than 300 is” Hazardous”.
Another serious precaution has been discovered but not reported. When activity diesel school buses arrive near the end of football practice, if parked idling near practice fields, while football athletes are running gassers or wind sprints finishing practice, they can create “hot spots” of Ozone in already hazardous heat and Ozone environment and push athletes’ Ozone Toxicity over the edge. Beware.
Exercise to exhaustion in dangerous heat and ozone is a formula for youth football athlete death. Body organs bake and oxidize. Children die. Often Ozone Toxicity is accompanied by Exertional Heat Stroke.