How To Better Protect Yourself From Smog In 2013
Even though temps haven’t yet risen to triple digits, the official ozone season starts this week for much of Texas (March 1 for DFW, Houston, April 1 for Austin, San Antonio and Corpus Christi), and based on the number of exceedances from last year, much work remains to be done.
Why? Ozone exceedances threaten lives. A recently released study reminds us of how critical clean air is to our health, especially for those who are most vulnerable to the harmful impacts of pollution. Rice University published a study this month in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, reporting a correlation between ozone exposure and heart attacks in the Houston area.
"It's long been thought there was an association between air pollution and cardiac arrest, and this study brings statistical support to that suspicion," said Texas Heart Institute President Dr. James Willerson in the Houston Chronicle.
Remember that ground level ozone – also known as smog – has been linked to premature mortality; increased hospital admissions, and emergency room visits for respiratory issues among children and adults with pre-existing respiratory disease such as asthma; as well as possible long-term lung damage. Children and the elderly with existing respiratory conditions are most at risk from smog.
EDF is working with university researchers to more fully understand how ozone and other types of air pollution contribute to disease. Early indicators point to low birth weights, for example, in babies with mothers exposed to high levels of particulate matter pollution.
Ozone Exceedances in Texas
Last year, Texas didn’t do so well limiting ozone levels in regions with high-density populations even though some numbers were slightly better than 2011. Environmental Protection Agency’s current ozone standard is 75 parts per billion (ppb) and is expected to be strengthened this year, meaning a redoubling of effort is needed across the state. On that front, San Antonio and Austin, some of the fastest population growth areas in the country, are working now to implement an ozone advance plan to reduce ozone levels ahead of a potential non-attainment designation.
To give you an idea of how Texas fared in meeting the current standard during last year’s ozone season, check out the data from some of our largest regions showing the number of days where the eight-hour average ozone level exceeded 75ppb:
Houston = 35 days
Dallas = 25
Fort Worth-Arlington = 23
San Antonio = 9
Austin-San Marcos = 7
Beaumont-Port Arthur = 8
Brazoria = 14
Additionally, the images below show at a glance the four highest ozone concentration days in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston during the 2012 ozone season. Note the purple fields, which signify “very unhealthy” days and the dark red fields reflecting “unhealthy” days according to the Air Quality Index.
[See how your region fared by visiting this URL and choosing the 2012 option: http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/cgi-bin/compliance/monops/8hr_4highest.pl.]
What You Can Do
As ozone season heats up, protect your health by paying special attention to rising ozone levels and limit your exposure accordingly. You can sign up to receive ozone forecasts and alerts from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and also stay on top of weather reports reporting ozone levels.
- In Houston, use the “Houston Clean Air Network” developed by Air Alliance Houston to provide real-time, regional ozone levels.
- 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).
- Avoid spending too much time outdoors on high-level ozone days.
- Gas up your vehicle in the early morning or late evening hours and mow your lawn later in the evening. If possible, use electric lawn equipment instead of those with gasoline engines.
- 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 and that your car is tuned up.
- 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).
- Make every day Earth Day and celebrate our planet at any of the earth day events planned around Texas this year (e.g., Earth Day Dallas, Earth Day Houston).