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As bluebonnets dot the Texas highways signaling the arrival of spring and summer, concerns about ozone pollution also begin to surface. March 1 marks the official start of ozone season in the Dallas Metroplex and in Greater Houston. Other metro areas, including Austin and San Antonio, mark April 1 as their start date. Ozone forecast season ends for most areas on October 31, but in Houston it lasts through November 30. Ozone season is nothing to celebrate, but this primer can help get you up to speed on the basics of ozone pollution and what you can do to improve air quality and protect the health of your family.
What is ozone? Ground-level ozone is the main component of smog and is the single most widespread air pollutant in the United States. Ozone pollution forms when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (primarily released from combustion of fossil fuels, like car exhaust) react with heat and sunlight. Texas’ combination of heavy industrial activity, hot summers, and millions of cars on the road increases the potential for generation of harmful levels of ozone.
How is it harmful to my health? Ozone is linked to premature deaths, increased asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses, as well as increased emergency room and hospital admissions. This pollutant poses an especially serious risk to children, seniors, and those with lung diseases like asthma and bronchitis. Just a short period of moderate ozone exposure can push breathing problems over the edge; a 2010 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reported a 19 percent increase in Intensive Care Unit admissions on higher ozone days.
What are the risks in Texas? Ozone is a concern across the state, but Houston, Fort Worth, and Dallas are the cities with the highest number of days in which ozone levels exceeded levels considered healthy. Last year, Houston saw 23 days of high ozone, including “very unhealthy” and “unhealthy” days, which signify that the entire population may experience adverse health effects.
What can I do about it? In the short term, limit outdoor activity during high ozone days. Visit the Houston Clean Air Network or TCEQ’s ozone alerts for information about high ozone days in your area.
In the long term, smart policies are needed to drive down emissions that cause ozone. One easy way to mitigate ozone pollution is to reduce energy consumption at your home and workplace. This can be achieved through energy efficiency and conservation. Lend your voice to support stronger national ozone standards and stronger engine and fuel standards that build upon existing commonsense measures.
As Texans hit the road for the beach, the mountains, or their favorite swimming holes, remember that there are steps you can take to protect your family from ozone this season. And with your help, we can improve Texas air quality so everybody will breathe easier.