As Summer Smog Season Starts, Free Resources Help Protect People

Next week is Air Quality Awareness week – a cooperative effort amongst the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state environmental agencies, and the National Weather Service, to remind everyone to protect their health by paying attention to local air quality. With the onset of warmer weather, EPA urges the public, particularly residents in New England,  to be aware of the increased risk of ground-level ozone and fine particle pollution (when combined, often referred to as smog), and take health precautions when smog levels are high.

“Air pollution is a significant public health concern in New England, especially for people who suffer from asthma and other respiratory ailments," said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England Office. “People should pay close attention to air quality alerts and limit their strenuous outdoor activity on air quality alert days.”

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 each day at EPA’s website. People can also stay informed about air quality in New England states by following EPA on Twitter.

In cooperation with the New England states, EPA has also set up an “Air Quality Alerts” system, provided free through the EnviroFlash program, where people can sign up to receive e-mails or text messages 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. In 2008, EPA strengthened the ozone air quality health standard to 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 level.

Poor air quality affects everyone, but some people are particularly sensitive to air pollutants, including children and adults who are active outdoors, and people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma. When air quality is predicted to be unhealthy, EPA and the states will announce an air quality alert for the affected areas. EPA recommends that people in these areas limit strenuous outdoor activity and EPA asks that on these days, citizens and businesses take actions that will help reduce air pollution and protect the public health. Everyone can help reduce air pollution by taking the following steps:

  • use public transportation or walk whenever possible;
  • combine errands and car-pool to reduce driving time and mileage;
  • 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 other small gasoline-powered engines, such as lawn mowers, chain saws, power-washers, generators, compressors and leaf blowers on unhealthy air days.

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 generate 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 gasoline-powered yard 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 30 years and EPA continues to take steps to further reduce air pollution. For example, since 2004, new cars, sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and mini-vans are meeting stringent new emission standards. The requirements have resulted in new vehicles that are 77 to 95 percent cleaner than older models. Also, EPA’s standards for new (starting with model year 2007) diesel trucks and buses are estimated to reduce NOx and fine particle emissions by up to 95 percent.

In addition, last year, EPA finalized the Cross State Air Pollution Rule.  Although the rule is currently subject to litigation, EPA believes the rule is legally sound and is vigorously defending it.  Under this rule, power plants in the eastern half of the country will need to cut air pollution with proven and cost-effective control technologies.  By 2014, the Cross State Air Pollution Rule and other state and EPA actions are expected to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by 73 and 54 percent from 2005 levels, respectively.

Free Air Quality Resources:

Air Quality Awareness Week

Air Quality Forecasts and Alert program

Ozone exceedance list