Free Air Quality Forecasts and Alerts as the Summer Smog Season Starts Air Quality Awareness Week, April 30 to May 4, 2007
As a kick off to Air Quality Awareness Week, which begins today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Weather Service remind people to be prepared if there is poor air quality this summer by taking advantage of free EPA air quality forecasts and alerts. People can protect their health by paying attention to local air quality.
“Ground-level ozone and fine particle air pollution are significant public health threats in New England" said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England Office. “Thanks to federal and state efforts, air quality has improved over the past two decades. However, New Englanders still need to pay close attention to air quality warnings and limit strenuous outdoor activity on air quality alert days. Plus, we all can take individual actions to reduce the air pollution that contributes to this public health risk.”
Current air quality conditions and next day forecasts for New England are available each day at EPA’s web site [www.epa.gov/ne/aqi]. People can also sign up at this web address to receive “Air Quality Alerts.” These alerts, provided free by EPA in cooperation with the New England states, automatically notify participants by e-mail 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, which is considered unhealthy when concentrations exceed 0.08 parts per million (ppm) over an 8-hour period. These same conditions also aid in the formation of fine particulate matter, another pollutant that yields poor air quality.
This year the ozone season started early. Warm temperatures and sunny skies on Monday, April 24, 2007 resulted in exceedances of the ozone standard being measured in Maine and Massachusetts. A list of ozone exceedances can be found at www.epa.gov/region1/airquality/o3exceed-07.html.
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 reduce air pollution through the following actions:
- use public transportation or walk whenever possible;
- combine errands and car-pool to reduce driving time and trips;
- 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;
- avoid using gasoline-powered engines, such as lawn mowers, chain saws and leaf blowers on unhealthy air days.
Cars, trucks, and buses are a primary source of the pollutants that make smog. Fossil fuel burning (coal, oil and natural gas) at electric power plants, particularly on hot days, also generates significant smog-forming pollution. Gas stations, print shops, 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. In 1983, New England had 90 unhealthy days due to ground-level ozone, compared with 43 days in 2002 and 16 days last year.
EPA has taken a number of 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. Also, EPA’s standards for new (starting with model year 2007) diesel trucks and buses will reduce NOx and particulate matter emissions by up to 95 percent.
In addition, EPA has issued the Clean Air Interstate Rule to help reduce the transport of air pollution from power plants across state boundaries. When fully implemented, this rule will reduce power plant NOx emissions by over 60 percent and sulfur dioxide by over 70 percent from 2003 levels.
Finally, additional improvements in air quality are expected as states implement plans to meet the 8-hour ozone standard. In 2004, EPA formally designated areas that were not meeting the 8-hour ozone standard as “nonattainment.” Maine’s air quality has since improved and in December 2006, EPA declared Maine as having achieved the ozone standard. Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island are out of compliance with the standard. These states must submit plans by June 15, 2007 that will outline how they will meet the standard by the end of 2009.
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