May 25th, 2006 04:50 EST
Summer Smog Season Begins
With warmer weather finally reminding us that June is almost here, and with Memorial Day weekend being the unofficial start of summer, EPA reminds New Englanders to be prepared if there is poor air quality this summer by taking advantage of free air quality forecasts and alerts. Remember, you can protect your 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 decade. 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 air quality web site [at: 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 the formation of ground-level ozone, which is considered unhealthy when concentrations exceed 0.08 parts per million (ppm) over an 8-hour period. Poor air quality affects everyone, but some people are particularly sensitive to ozone, including children and adults who are active outdoors, and people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Exposure to elevated ozone levels can cause serious breathing problems, aggravate asthma and other pre-existing lung diseases and make people more susceptible to respiratory infection. When elevated ozone levels are expected, EPA recommends that people limit strenuous outdoor activity.
Whenever air quality levels are predicted to be unhealthy in areas in New England, EPA and the states will announce an air quality alert in these areas. EPA asks that on these days, citizens and businesses take special care to help reduce air pollution, protect the public health, and maybe even save some money. 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 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 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 20 years. In 1983, New England had 90 unhealthy days due to ground-level ozone, compared with 43 days in 2002 and 26 days last year.
EPA has taken a number of steps to further reduce air pollution. EPA emission standards for new vehicles will result in cars that are 77 percent to 95 percent cleaner by 2009 (phase-in began in 2004) and cleaner-burning gasoline that contains 90 percent less sulfur. Also, EPA’s clean diesel trucks and buses program will reduce NOx emissions from new trucks and buses by over 90 percent beginning in 2007. This program is nearing a key milestone. On June 1, 2006, refiners and importers must ensure that the sulfur content of at least 80 percent of the volume of the highway diesel fuel they produce drops from the current level of 500 ppm to 15 ppm. Lowering the sulfur content will enable modern pollution-control technology to be effective on the 2007 trucks and buses. Once these fuel and engine regulations are fully implemented, 2.6 million tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxide emissions will be reduced each year, nationally. Soot or particulate matter will also be reduced by 110,000 tons a year.
In addition, EPA has issued the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) to help reduce the transport of air pollution from power plants across state boundaries. When fully implemented, CAIR will reduce power plant NOx emissions by over 60 percent and sulfur dioxide by over 70 percent.
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.” (For more information on non-attainment areas, see epa.gov/region01/airquality/nattainm.html.) States not meeting the ozone standard must submit plans by June 2007 that will outline how they will meet the standard by the end of 2009.