This is No April Fool’s: Today Marks Beginning of Serious Season

Today kicks off the official ozone season, when higher ozone concentrations can make air unhealthy to breathe. The season of “smog” begins April 1 and lingers until October.

Last year many Texas counties got an “F” for high ozone levels by the American Lung Association: Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Galveston, Harris, Hood, Montgomery, Orange, Parker, Tarrant, Travis and more. Houston was ranked the 7th most ozone-polluted city in the country, with Dallas-Fort Worth not far behind, ranked at 13th.

What’s different this year? In Texas, there are more people, more cars, and more industry. Mixed with hot summer days, this may mean higher ozone concentrations, which can translate to more asthma, more bronchitis, more emphysema and more complications from cardiovascular disease.

In other words, we need to be more vigilant than ever about keeping ozone levels low. Along those lines, here are some simple steps that we can all take to do our part:

  • Make it a routine to look at the air quality index (AQI) before you plan your activities for the day.
  • Understand what the colors on the AQI mean when you hear them on the news and restrict outdoor activities accordingly: orange (unhealthy for sensitive populations); red (unhealthy for the general population); and purple (very unhealthy for the general population).
  • Use public transit or carpool whenever possible. Better yet, get out that bike.
  • If you must drive, be sure that your tires are properly inflated, your car is tuned up and refuel only later in the evening.
  • Mow your lawn later in the evening, and if possible, use electric lawn equipment instead of those with gasoline engines.
  • Conserve energy, since most energy comes from fossil fuel-burning power plants that produce ozone.
  • Use products that are ozone-friendly (like Green Seal certified products).
  • Plan to attend any number of earth day events planned around Texas and learn more about air quality (e.g., Earth Day Dallas, Earth Day Houston).

2011 Ozone-Related Predictions

Here are a few things I expect see over the coming months regarding ozone:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency will announce a stronger ozone standard (current standard is 85 ppb) in July of this year, which will be more health protective and compel many large regions to begin serious discussions on how to meet the new standard.
  • More public discussion will follow the strengthened standard announcement, which will lead to more public education about ozone prevention since regions will need all the collective willpower and innovative solutions they can find.
  • We will begin to see benefits from the implementation of new federal engine standards, like the marine and locomotive diesel rules.
  • First steps of the international emission control area requirements for ocean going vessels will have been taken, helping to lower ozone levels in port cities.

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