Friday, July 12, 2013

Air Time: Test your knowledge about summer ozone

by Ecology's Air Quality Program
Summer is the time of year many of us enjoy favorite outdoor activities like hiking, biking and gardening. Summer's warm temperatures and longer days can also lead to increased ground-level ozone in the air. How much do you know about ozone? Take the following short quiz to find out.

1. Is ozone good or bad?

A. Ozone is good! It protects us from the sun's ultraviolet rays.
B. Ozone is bad! It irritates our lungs and aggravates asthma.
C. Both! Ozone up high in the stratosphere protects us from ultraviolet radiation, but ozone at ground level is unhealthy to breathe.
Answer: C. Ozone is good up high, but bad nearby. For those with asthma and other respiratory diseases, ground-level ozone is air pollution that can put a real damper on outdoor fun. If you or any of your loved ones have asthma or other respiratory problems, you may find it helpful to check the air quality before going outdoors. Go to Ecology's Air Monitoring Network for more information.
Ozone pollution also harms plant life. Reducing ozone pollution levels will help protect Washington's most treasured sites, including Mount Rainier National Park.

2. Do human activities produce ozone pollution?

A. No.
B. Yes.
C. Yes and no.
Answer: C. We do not create ozone directly, but our activities generate oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that form ozone in the presence of heat and sunlight.

3. What activity contributes the most to Washington's ozone pollution levels?

A. Backyard barbecues
B. Driving
C. Garden and lawn care
D. Using paints and solvents
E. VOC emissions from plants
Answer: B. Although all of the above activities emit chemicals that can form ozone, the biggest contributor is motor vehicles. Vehicles emit oxides of nitrogen and VOCs that form ozone when exposed to heat and sunlight. In addition to forming ozone, oxides of nitrogen and many VOCs are unhealthy for us to breathe. You don't even need to drive your vehicle to emit VOCs. They evaporate from your fuel tank on hot summer days.
Some VOCs that form ozone come from natural sources. Human activities, however, are by far the biggest source of ozone-forming chemicals that lead to unhealthy air during hot summer weather.

4. What can you do to reduce ozone pollution?

A. If you have an alternative, don't drive. Walk, bike, or use transit.
B. If you must refuel, do so at night. The gas pump emits those same VOCs that evaporate from your gas tank on a hot day.
C. Maintain your vehicle. A vehicle in good working order runs cleaner and emits less pollution.
D. A, B, and C.
Answer: D. For tips on vehicle maintenance, see Ecology's publication Car Care=Clean Air.
Although motor vehicles contribute the most, some popular summer activities that contribute to forming ozone pollution include mowing the lawn, painting the house, and using the barbecue. Here are some more ways you can reduce ozone:
  • Use an electric or push lawn mower, or wait for cooler weather to mow the lawn.
  • Avoid using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers in your yard. Instead, try these natural yard care tips.
  • Use low-VOC house paints.
  • Don't use lighter fluid when you fire up the grill.
To learn more about ozone, check out the Air Quality Program's ozone video. Also see Ecology's Air Quality Program.

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