Agency Provides Free Alerts on New England Air Quality

Today is the beginning of Air Quality Awareness Week, a cooperative effort among U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state environmental agencies, and the National Weather Service, to remind the public to protect their health by paying attention to local air quality.

"Air pollution is a significant public health threat in New England," said Ira Leighton, acting regional administrator of EPA’s New England Office. "People need to pay close attention to air quality warnings and limit strenuous outdoor activity on air quality alert days. In addition, we can all take individual actions to reduce the air pollution that contributes to this public health risk."

Air quality forecasts are issued daily by the New England state air agencies. Current air quality conditions and next day forecasts for New England are available at EPA’s Web site. People can also sign up to receive "Air Quality Alerts." These free alerts, provided by the federal agency in cooperation with the New England states, automatically notify participants by e-mail or text message when high concentrations of ground-level ozone or fine particles are predicted in their area.

Warm summer temperatures aid in the formation of ground-level ozone and fine particle pollution. Last summer, the agency strengthened the ozone air quality health standard. The new ozone standard is set at 0.075 parts per million (ppm) on an 8-hour average basis. Air quality alerts are issued when ozone concentrations exceed, or are predicted to exceed, this new standard. EPA New England posts a list of exceedances of the ozone standard, by date and monitor location, on its Web site.

When air quality is predicted to be unhealthy, EPA and the states will announce an air quality alert for the affected areas. The federal agency asks that on these days, citizens and businesses take actions that will help reduce air pollution and protect the public health. Everyone can reduce air pollution through the following actions:

  • use public transportation or walk whenever possible;
  • combine errands and car-pool;
  • use less electricity by turning air conditioning to a higher temperature setting and turning off lights, TVs, and computers when they are not being used; and
  • avoid using gasoline-powered engines, such as lawn mowers, chain saws, and leaf blowers.

Cars, motorcycles, trucks, and buses are a primary source of the pollutants that make smog. Fossil fuel burning at electric generating stations, particularly on hot days, also generates significant smog-forming pollution. Other industries, as well as smaller sources, such as gasoline stations and print shops, also contribute to smog. In addition, household products like paints and cleaners, as well as lawn and garden equipment, also contribute to smog formation.

The federal Clean Air Act has led to significant improvements in ozone air quality over the past 25 years and EPA continues to take steps to further reduce air pollution. Since 2004, new cars, sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and mini-vans are meeting stringent new emission standards. The requirements will be phased in through 2009, resulting in vehicles that are 77 to 95 percent cleaner than older models. EPA’s standards for new (starting with model year 2007) diesel trucks and buses will reduce NOx and fine particle emissions by up to 95 percent.