Association to conduct air quality studies in city

Published 12:14am Saturday, June 22, 2013

NATCHEZ Sometime over the next few months, tiny samples of Natchez quietly will be collected and analyzed.

No one will even notice that the samples have been taken, because what will be sampled is invisible — it’s air.

But a spokesperson for the health advocacy organization that is sponsoring the survey of Natchez air said she hopes that the story the survey results tell will inspire local officials to take action to clear the air.

American Lung Association Vice President of Public Policy Jennifer Cofer said the ALA is sponsoring a study of indoor air quality in 12 cities, among which Natchez is one.

This is the second round of testing in Mississippi, with 12 cities already tested.

“We use the air quality index that the Environmental Protection Agency uses (for outdoor air) as a guiding path to measure indoor air quality — you are looking for any toxins, chemicals, anything that is harmful,” Cofer said.

“What we found with our first round of testing was that places that allowed smoking indoors had harmful air to breathe inside.”

The testing, which will be contracted through the Mississippi State University Social Science Research Center, will be a randomized selection of locations, Cofer said, and will compare the air quality in similar businesses that allow and disallow smoking on their premises.

“We will go to a smoke-free bar in Natchez and a smoking bar in Natchez so that we’ll be comparing apples to apples,” she said.

“The whole purpose is to show with science that the air we breathe matters, that second-hand smoke has toxins.”

The owners of the businesses in which air will be sampled won’t be notified that they’ve been selected for testing, but when the results are released individual businesses won’t be named.

Instead, Cofer said the report would only give locations such labels as, “bar that allows smoking” and “bar that does not allow smoking.”

“This (study) is not meant to be calling out a business owner,” she said.

Cofer said in past studies the ALA has observed that municipalities that enact comprehensive smoke-free policies see an increase in business.

“People go out more, and employers have seen a happier workforce because they are healthier, they are not breathing in hours of low air-quality air that has toxins in it,” she said.

“I would love for Natchez to be the first river city to go comprehensive (with smoke-free policies).”