Study: Smoke's out, air's cleaner

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By Laura Hagan

With tobacco smoke gone, visitors to Oldham County businesses and restaurants are breathing in significantly cleaner air.

It’s been more than a year since the county enacted a smoking ban in restaurants and other entertainment venues. Now, the results on how the air has changed are in.

The Oldham County Health Department tested air quality in 10 venues one weekend in March 2007. The locations – six restaurants, two restaurants that serve alcohol and two entertainment venues – each had samples taken for measurements.

Researchers from the University of Kentucky visited venues as patrons to collect the data.

OCHD health educator Liz Burrows said to prevent data from being skewed by anything out of the ordinary, the measurements were taken during a normal weekend.

Burrows said a list of venues surveyed isn’t available, and the tests aren’t conducted to “make anyone look bad.”

Researchers revisited each of the venues at the same time this spring for a second air quality reading.

The higher the number, the more toxic the air.

Though the Environmental Protection Agency has no indoor Air Quality Standard, the outdoor standard is 35. One restaurant in Oldham County earned a 303, and three others scored above 100 in the initial test.

Paul Kiser, prevention specialist for Seven Counties Services, said 35 is the toxic outdoor level.

Since the ban was enacted, the number of toxic air particles have significantly decreased. Of the 10 locations measured, nine have a number below 35, many significantly lower. The restaurant previously measured the highest has remained that way, now at 94.

Hahn said the number may still be high because there has been smoking on the patio or near the entryway. The ordinance requires smokers be at least 10 feet away from the entrance.

However, there is an 83 percent decrease in fine particle air pollution since the ban went into effect.

Burrows said other communities like Lexington and Louisville have seen an 80 to 90 percent decrease since enacting a smoking ban. Burrows said she expected Oldham’s results would be similar.

The particles measured are compared to “taking a hair out of your head and slicing it 100 times,” said Ellen J. Hahn, a professor from the University of Kentucky who spoke about the findings at a press conference Monday.

Hahn said she can’t release names of venues surveyed, as they are part of research protocol. The Oldham Era plans to file an open records request to find out how local venues scored in the survey.

With more communities putting a smoking ban in place, Kiser said he would expect the EPA to “ultimately enforce some indoor standards.”

Burrows said OCHD is the primary enforcer for the county’s smoking ban. Burrows also led Smoke-free Oldham, a lobbyist group in support of a county-wide smoking ban.

She said she has seen a primarily positive public reaction and compliance rates have been strong.

“Oldham County has taken an amazing step in improving public health,” she said.

E-mail us about this story at: lhagan@oldhamera.com.