DAQ on the Lookout for Summer Ozone
Utahns once again asked to help clear the smog
Now that Utah's winter air-polluting grip is subsiding, the summer smog season is just hovering around the corner.
Like winter inversions, the weather has a lot to do with determining how much pollution we get. The months of May through September — hot sunny days with no wind cook the pollutants coming from vehicle tailpipes and industrial sources, turning them into ozone.
But Division of Air Quality scientists say the air quality rules adopted to reduce the winter particulate pollution (PM2.5) will also help crack down on smog. That's because the rules crafted to curb emissions from auto body shops, industrial products, small boilers and diesel fuel target the volatile organic compounds - known as VOCs - a precursor gas that impacts both PM2.5 and ozone
Still, chances are Utah will see some smog this summer.
"Every year is different than the last because meteorology plays a major role in air pollution," said Bryce Bird, director of DAQ. "While we are optimistic that we will continue to see improved air quality because of the rules and regulations in place, there will be times when we will be asking the public to help cut pollution on days when there are high ozone levels."
Ozone is a mix of chemicals emitted mainly from vehicle tailpipes, diesel engines and industrial sources. Ozone is formed when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) mix with sunlight and heat. The highest ozone concentrations usually occur between 2-8 p.m., May through September. New research studies are exploring ozone pollution during the winter months and what implications it may have to wintertime particulate problems, as well.
Ozone is reported in parts per million or ppm. The health based standard is .075 ppm and is designed to protect against longer-term exposure to ozone that can cause ongoing health effects.
Ozone can irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing, throat irritation, and/or an uncomfortable sensation in the chest. It can lower your resistance to diseases such as colds and pneumonia. Those who are most sensitive to its impacts are the very young, the elderly and those with pre-existing breathing problems. People with respiratory diseases whose lungs are more vulnerable to ozone may experience health effects earlier and at lower ozone levels than less sensitive individuals.
Ozone also makes people more sensitive to allergens, the most common triggers of asthma attacks. Even healthy adults doing heavy exercise or manual labor outdoors may experience unhealthy effects during high ozone periods. This is because, during physical activity, ozone penetrates deeper into the parts of the lungs that are more vulnerable to injury.
Studies have shown that ozone can inflame and damage the lining of the lungs. Within a few days, the damaged cells are shed and replaced - much like the skin peels after a sunburn. However, if this type of inflammation happens repeatedly over a long time period, lung tissue may become permanently scarred, resulting in less lung elasticity, permanent loss of lung function, and a lower quality of life. It is best to consult with your primary health care provider if you have specific questions about your health as it relates to ozone.
What You Can Do
DAQ calls for Voluntary Action when exceptionally high concentrations of ground-level ozone are forecasted. Because air pollution from vehicles accounts for more than half of the air pollution along the Wasatch Front, the best choice you can make during the summer months is to leave your vehicle parked for the day and look for other ways to get around.
By simply parking your vehicle for one day, the average driver would keep just over ¼ pound of reduced pollutants to ozone precursors alone out of the air. While that may not seem like much, if every driver along the Wasatch Front would park his/her vehicle for one day per week, emissions would decrease by 125 tons per week. Some alternatives to driving include:
- Public transit
- Active transportation (walking or biking)
- Teleworking (conference calling, video conferencing or working from an off-site location)
If you can't leave your vehicle parked, help ensure you’re driving smarter. You can do this by:
- Carpooling and vanpooling
- Trip chaining
- Skip the trip (plan ahead to bring a lunch or grocery shop once each week rather than a few times for a few items)
- Alternative and flexible work schedules
- Refrain from filling your vehicle gas tank unless levels are low
Other things help as well, such as:
- Refrain from mowing until after sundown; better yet, skip it for the day
- Conserve electricity. Don't overcool your home, and turn off lights and appliances that aren't in use. Wash laundry and dishes with full loads
- Don't paint your house exterior or use cleaning solvent outdoors
To protect your health from ozone:
- Limit outdoor exercise to early morning or after sundown
- Try to stay indoors if you have asthma or other respiratory problems
- Limit outdoor exposure for small children during peak ozone periods
This article was written by Bethany Hyatt, Communications Specialist in the Office of Planning and Public Affairs.