Friday, August 13, 2010

Air Time: Heat + air pollution = problems with ozone

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

If you’re venturing out and about during the next several days, you might want to ditch your car and use some air-conditioned public transit.

The expected heat — high temperatures in the 90s and even topping 100 degrees in some locations — can combine with air pollution such as vehicle emissions to produce elevated levels of ozone.

We could see a build-up of ozone, especially on Sunday and early next week, in several western Washington communities.

Unhealthy ozone levels can affect people with lung disease, children, older adults, and people who are active. Breathing ozone can:
  • Trigger airway irritation, coughing and pain when taking a deep breath.
  • Cause wheezing and breathing difficulties during exercise or outdoor activities.
  • Inflame lung tissue.
  • Aggravate asthma.
  • Increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis.
  • Permanently scar lung tissue after repeated exposures.

There are two kinds of ozone. “Good” ozone forms naturally about 10 to 30 miles above the Earth’s surface. It helps protect life on Earth from the sun’s harmful rays. But ozone at ground level is considered “bad.” It is the main ingredient of smog, and can cause health problems.

Ground-level ozone is a gas created by a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight. Vehicle and industrial emissions, gasoline vapors, chemical solvents, and natural sources emit NOx and VOCs that help form ground-level ozone. Many urban areas tend to have high levels of ozone. But high ozone levels can also be found in rural areas, because wind carries ozone and ozone-forming pollutants hundreds of miles away from their sources.

You can help reduce air pollution during these hot days:
  • Drive less. Combine errands.
  • Wait to travel during cooler evening hours, if possible.
  • Don’t use lawnmowers or other small engines that emit air pollutants.
  • Don’t burn outdoors because of high fire danger and health protection.
  • Don’t idle your engine. Turn it off while your vehicle is parked or waiting in line.
  • Wait for cooler morning or late-evening hours to refuel your vehicle.
  • Don’t paint or use aerosol sprays until temperatures cool off.


mikesac said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seth said...

Thanks for your comment, mikesac! Ecology and others are working hard to address these and related issues.


WA Department of Ecology said...

The 8/25/2010 comment was removed because it contained a link to a commercial website.

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